top 100 albums of the 2000s

Spotify playlist: Top 100 albums of the 2000s

I”ve compiled a Spotify playlist of my Top 100 albums list, with one sample track per album, starting at 100 and going through to 1. It’s an imperfect exercise, but one that is more viable now than it might have been at the end of last year, as Spotify’s choice seems to be  better than it was. I had expected to get maybe two thirds of the albums represented, but in the end found tracks for 81 out of 100.

I was still surprised by how many albums were absent, however – not necessarily the ones you’d think of as especially obscure. I got a few tracks off best-of and other compilations, and cheated on one track with a live album version (musically identical to the original, which was recorded live in the studio). That said, I was particularly gutted there was no Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez from MJ Hibbett and the Validators, or tracks from the excellent Immaculate Machine.

My top 10 was particularly badly-hit, with only half the albums on Spotify. There are several M Ward albums on there, but not Transistor Radio, and amazingly no Arcade Fire at all as far as I can tell. I had to rely on an L-Word soundtrack compilation to get a selection from Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, while Camera Obscura’s Lets Get Out Of This Country is absent, but the singles from it are present. Bizarre.

And while I’m having a whinge about Spotify, it managed to lose my connection with Facebook, which I just had to restore. It’s a great service in principle, but its hit-and-miss choice and shonky interface make it a bit of a trial to use.

Still, enjoy the tracks – I’ve not tried to be overly clever or trip people up, they’re mostly obvious selections from the albums. For the full run-down on the records, check the Top 100 Albums category. The layout of the list below isn’t great – sorry about that…

100    Mark Knopfler – The Ragpicker’s Dream    Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville
99    Bis – Return to Central
98    Red Hot Chili Peppers – By The Way
97    Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight    Dreamworld
96    Shy Child – Noise Won’t Stop    Pressure to Come
95    Loretta Lynn – Van Lear Rose
94    Charlotte Hatherley – Charlotte Hatherley
93    Cerys Matthews – Don’t Look Down

92    Blur  – Think Tank    Battery in Your Leg
91    Dave Tyack – Rip Van Winkle
90    Emma Pollock – Watch the Fireworks    Adrenaline
89    Yo La Tengo – And then nothing turned itself inside out    The Crying of Lot G
88    System of a Down – Toxicity    Toxicity
87    The Libertines – Up the Bracket    Up the Bracket
86    Stephin Merrit – Showtunes    At Madam Plum’s
85    Stephen Malkmus  – Stephen Malkmus    Deado
84    Destroyer – Trouble In Dreams    Introducing Angles (sic)
83    Sergeant Buzfuz – Fire Horse
82    Emmy the Great – First Love    We Almost Had A Baby
81    The Bluetones – Science and Nature    Keep the Home Fires Burning
80    The Futureheads – The Futureheads    Decent Days and Nights
79    Ryan Adams – Demolition    Starting to Hurt
78    Chris T-T – The 253
77    Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World    James River Blues
76    Magnet – On Your Side    The Day We Left Town
75    Beirut – Gulag Orkestar    Carousels
74    The Knife – Silent Shout    Silent Shout
73    Radiohead – Kid A    In Limbo
72    Hot Chip – The Warning     And I Was A Boy From School
71    Feist  – The Reminder    The Water
70    Super Furry Animals  – Mwng    Ysbeidiau Heulog
69    Gossip    Standing in the Way of Control Standing in the Way of Control
68    Calexico – Carried to Dust    The News About William
67    Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers    Wandering Kind
66    The Raveonettes – Pretty In Black    Here Comes Mary
65    The Frightened Prisoners of the Kraken – Man Car Plane
64    Blue Roses – Blue Roses    Coast
63    Elvis Costello and the Imposters – The Delivery Man    Country Darkness
62    Black Box Recorder – The Facts of Life    Goodnight Kiss
61    Steve Earle – Jerusalem    John Walker’s Blues
60    Gorillaz – Demon Days    DARE
59    Santogold – Santogold    L.E.S. Artistes
58    The Handsome Family – Last Days of Wonder    All the Time In Airports
57    My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves    One Big Holiday
56    British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power    Something Wicked
55    Misty’s Big Adventure – Misty’s Big Adventure and their place in the Solar Hi-Fi System    I Am Cool With A Capital C
54    Flipron – Biscuits for Cerberus    Youth Shall Never Beat Old Age In A Race
53    Pet Shop Boys – Yes    Beautiful People
52    Hefner  – Dead Media
51    The White Stripes – Elephant     Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine
50    The Coral – The Coral    Dreaming of You
49    Piney Gir – Peakahokahoo and Hold Yer Horses
48    The Long Blondes – Someone to Drive You Home    Weekend Without Makeup
47    Gillian Welch – Time the Revelator    Everything Is Free
46    Lambchop – Is A Woman and Nixon    Nashville Parent
45    Thomas Tantrum – Thomas Tantrum    Trust Rhymes With Crust
44    Le Tigre – This Island    TKO
43    Paul Burch – Fool for Love
42    Badly-Drawn Boy – The Hour of the Bewilderbeast    Everybody’s Stalking
41    At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command    Pattern Against User
40    The Maccabees – Wall of Arms    Kiss and Resolve
39    Shivaree  – Rough Dreams    Reseda Casino
38    Ron Sexsmith – Retriever
37    Yeah Yeah Yeahs  – Show Your Bones    Way Out
36    J Xaverre – These Acid Stars    Fires
35    McLusky – McLusky Do Dallas    The World Loves Us And Is Our Bitch
34    Life Without Buildings – Any Other City    PS Exclusive
33    Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump    The Crystal Lake
32    Elbow – Asleep in the Back    Red
31    The Hidden Cameras – Awoo    She’s Gone
30    Calexico / Iron and Wine – In The Reins    He Lay In The Reins
29    Laura Cantrell  – Not the Tremblin’ Kind    The Way It Is
28    Alfie – Crying at Teatime    Look At You Now
27    Tender Trap – Film Molecules (2002)    Oh Katrina
26    Hefner  – We Love The City    The Greedy Ugly People
25    Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!    Run Away
24    I Am Kloot  – Gods and Monsters
23    Neko Case – The Tigers have Spoken    The Tigers Have Spoken
22    Sylvie Lewis  – Tangos and Tantrums    Promises of Paris
21    Morrissey – Morrissey, You Are The Quarry    Let Me Kiss You
20    Murry the Hump – Songs of Ignorance    Cracking Up
19    Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes    He Doesn’t Know Why
18    The New Pornographers – Electric Version    Miss Teen Wordpower
17    Doves – Last Broadcast    Satellites
16    The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes    Because It’s Not Love… But It’s Still A Feeling
15    The Broken Family Band – Balls     It’s All Over
14    MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez
13    Immaculate Machine – Ones and Zeros

12    Amy Winehouse – Back to Black    Me & Mr Jones
11    Half Man Half Biscuit – Trouble Over Bridgwater    Used To Be In Evil Gazebo
10    The Crimea – Tragedy Rocks    White Russian Galaxy
9    M Ward – Transistor Radio
8    Arcade Fire – Funeral

7    Elvis Costello and the Metropole Orkest – My Flame Burns Blue    Almost Ideal Eyes
6    Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country    Tears for Affairs
5    Sleater-Kinney – The Woods    Jumpers
4    Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye    Count Souvenirs
3    Frankie Machine – Francis Albert Machine and Friends
2    Erin McKeown – Grand    Cinematic
1    Songs:Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co    Just Be Simple

Top 100 albums: full list

For ease, here’s a full run-down of my top 100 albums of the decade.

1    Songs:Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co    -2003
2    Erin McKeown – Grand    -2003
3    Frankie Machine – Francis Albert Machine and Friends    -2002
4    Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye    -2006
5    Sleater-Kinney – The Woods    -2005
6    Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country    -2006
7    Elvis Costello and the Metropole Orkest – My Flame Burns Blue    -2006
8    Arcade Fire – Funeral    -2004
9    M Ward – Transistor Radio    -2005
10    The Crimea – Tragedy Rocks    -2004
11    Half Man Half Biscuit – Trouble Over Bridgwater    -2000
12    Amy Winehouse – Back to Black    -2006
13    Immaculate Machine – Ones and Zeros    -2005
14    MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez    -2009
15    The Broken Family Band – Balls     -2006
16    The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes    -2006
17    Doves – Last Broadcast    -2002
18    The New Pornographers – Electric Version    -2003
19    Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes    -2008
20    Murry the Hump – Songs of Ignorance    -2001
21    Morrissey – Morrissey, You Are The Quarry    -2004
22    Sylvie Lewis  – Tangos and Tantrums    -2004
23    Neko Case – The Tigers have Spoken    -2004
24    I Am Kloot  – Gods and Monsters    -2005
25    Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!    -2007
26    Hefner  – We Love The City    -2000
27    Tender Trap – Film Molecules (2002)
28    Alfie – Crying at Teatime    -2005
29    Laura Cantrell  – Not the Tremblin’ Kind    -2000
30    Calexico / Iron and Wine – In The Reins    -2005
31    The Hidden Cameras – Awoo    -2006
32    Elbow – Asleep in the Back    -2001
33    Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump    -2000
34    Life Without Buildings – Any Other City    -2000
35    McLusky – McLusky Do Dallas    -2002
36    J Xaverre – These Acid Stars    -2003
37    Yeah Yeah Yeahs  – Show Your Bones    -2006
38    Ron Sexsmith – Retriever    -2004
39    Shivaree  – Rough Dreams    -2002
40    The Maccabees – Wall of Arms    -2009
41    At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command    -2000
42    Badly-Drawn Boy – The Hour of the Bewilderbeast    -2000
43    Paul Burch – Fool for Love    -2003
44    Le Tigre – This Island    -2004
45    Thomas Tantrum – Thomas Tantrum    -2008
46    Lambchop – Is A Woman and Nixon    -2002
47    Gillian Welch – Time the Revelator    -2001
48    The Long Blondes – Someone to Drive You Home    -2006
49    Piney Gir – Peakahokahoo and Hold Yer Horses    -2004
50    The Coral – The Coral    -2002
51    The White Stripes – Elephant     -2003
52    Hefner  – Dead Media    -2001
53    Pet Shop Boys – Yes    -2009
54    Flipron – Biscuits for Cerberus    -2006
55    Misty’s Big Adventure – Misty’s Big Adventure and their place in the Solar Hi-Fi System    -2004
56    British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power    -2003
57    My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves    -2003
58    The Handsome Family – Last Days of Wonder    -2006
59    Santogold – Santogold    -2008
60    Gorillaz – Demon Days    -2005
61    Steve Earle – Jerusalem    -2002
62    Black Box Recorder – The Facts of Life    -2000
63    Elvis Costello and the Imposters – The Delivery Man    -2004
64    Blue Roses – Blue Roses    -2009
65    The Frightened Prisoners of the Kraken – Man Car Plane    -2001
66    The Raveonettes – Pretty In Black    -2005
67    Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers    -2007
68    Calexico – Carried to Dust    -2008
69    Gossip     – Standing in the Way of Control    -2006
70    Super Furry Animals  – Mwng    -2000
71    Feist  – The Reminder    -2007
72    Hot Chip – The Warning     -2006
73    Radiohead – Kid A    -2000
74    The Knife – Silent Shout    -2006
75    Beirut – Gulag Orkestar    -2006
76    Magnet – On Your Side    -2003
77    Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World    -2006
78    Chris T-T – The 253    -2001
79    Ryan Adams – Demolition    -2002
80    The Futureheads – The Futureheads    -2004
81    The Bluetones – Science and Nature    -2000
82    Emmy the Great – First Love    -2009
83    Sergeant Buzfuz – Fire Horse    -2004
84    Destroyer – Trouble In Dreams    -2008
85    Stephen Malkmus  – Stephen Malkmus    -2001
86    Stephin Merrit – Showtunes    -2006
87    The Libertines – Up the Bracket    -2002
88    System of a Down – Toxicity    -2001
89    Yo La Tengo – And then nothing turned itself inside out    -2000
90    Emma Pollock – Watch the Fireworks    -2007
91    Dave Tyack    Rip Van Winkle    -2002
92    Blur     Think Tank    -2003
93    Cerys Matthews    Don’t Look Down    -2009
94    Charlotte Hatherley    Grey Will Fade    -2004
95    Loretta Lynn    Van Lear Rose    -2004
96    Shy Child    Noise Won’t Stop    -2007
97    Rilo Kiley    Under the Blacklight    -2007
98    Red Hot Chili Peppers    By The Way    -2002
99    Bis    Return to Central    -2001
100    Mark Knopfler    The Ragpicker’s Dream    -2002

Top 100 albums: 10-1

10    The Crimea – Tragedy Rocks    (2004)
This album was released in two different versions: the first, in 2004, was home recorded (to a high standard) and self-released by the band;  the 2005 version was a major label effort, with half a dozen of the same songs. This only tells half the story of the complications around this band and album. Some of the tracks on it were first performed by predecessor outfit The Crocketts (who I saw by chance at Leeds festival in 2001 and perhaps unfairly dismissed as shouty rubbish); singles Lottery Winners on Acid, White Russian Galaxy and Baby Boom were released in 2002-3, and the middle of those was released for the third time (I think – I lost track a bit) in 2005. Overall, the band spent a massive amount of time flogging this record, to very little effect. Which was indeed a tragedy: in both editions, it is crammed with brilliant pop songs, quirky and memorable lyrics from Davey MacManus and straightforward but brilliantly effective playing. It’s easily one of the best indie pop albums of the decade, and if its lack of success at the time was sad, the band’s fortunes subsequently were deeply so. Follow-up album Secrets of the Witching Hour was released online for free, but it simply didn’t have the tunes, and if the band hoped to make money from gigs, their attendances seemed to be dropping off. Myspace evidence suggests Macmanus’s mental condition is deteriorating; assuming it’s not a purely cynical schtick, his “problems” seem to be going beyond the point of artistic usefulness. A new album was reported to be in the can at the time of writing – much as I’d love it to be a brilliant record that catapults the band to well-deserved success, it doesn’t look likely. Tragedy Rocks looks like proving to be a brief glimpse of what might have been – if you don’t own it, track it down.

9    M Ward – Transistor Radio    (2005)
M Ward is one of a few artists on this list whose music has been on a journey during the decade, but was at its best at the turning-point from one style to another. Earlier records were acoustic in style, driven by Ward’s finger-picking guitar; latterly a slightly broader production pallette and the same laconic Americana have made for an intermittently enjoyable combination. But in 2005 Ward struck a brilliant balance of mid-twentieth century American musical styles, with some brilliantly simple (and at times a bit similar) pop tunes, rounded out by some brilliantly warm, fluid and twangy guitar. Almost the only album of American music you’ll ever need.

8    Arcade Fire – Funeral    (2004)
This is perhaps an obvious choice, but it’s one of the few albums that married critical success with good sales, while at the same time being good as far as I’m concerned too. I was aware of it very early on thanks to Dan Paton, who was recommended it on import in a shop in 2004 (hence I’m counting its 2004 North American release for a date, not its 2005 UK issue); the following spring, we saw the band’s first show outside North America. In that sense, it soundtracked my move to London, both in terms of listening to it on numerous train journeys between Manchester and London, and with that gig representing the sort of opportunity that’s available in London and nowhere else in the UK. As for the album itself, is there much more to say? The band wrung great music from grief to tremendous effect – it seems to be one of those albums that could only have been made by exactly those people at that time, as the mixed nature of follow-up Neon Bible seemed to demonstrate (its good reviews were mostly really reviews of this record by journalists who were slow to catch on first time round). Whether or not the band goes on to greater success, Funeral deserves to be remembered for many years as a truly great record.

7    Elvis Costello and the Metropole Orkest – My Flame Burns Blue    (2006)
Costello is one of the few artists whose output is so diverse that I felt I could justify giving him multiple entries in this list. This album in particular is so strong because it showcases much of that diversity in a coherent form on one disc. It’s a live recording of Costello performing with the Metropole Orkest, taking in a range of his older songs, his dabblings with jazz and lounge, plus some less obvious choices from his back catalogue. The whole thing is accessible and vibrant, and is the perfect overview of Costello’s “non-guitar” work. Almost needless to say, this superb record received virtually no attention on its release and sank without trace. Scandalous.

6    Camera Obscura – Let’s Get Out of This Country    (2006)
Camera Obscura are a band of the noughties and no mistake: the first album emerged in 2000, and new instalments have followed at regular three-year intervals. If the first album seemed to be a good stab at the Belle and Sebastian sound, they developed massively with the next two: 2003’s Underachievers Please Try Harder was full of gorgeous lovelorn ballads, mostly in the best indie tradition but occasionally straying into doo-wop and Leonard Cohen. Its successor is, to my mind, the band’s masterpiece: ten tracks, all flawless. The production is lusher than ever, and for once this really serves the songs: string arrangements are put to just the right use, the songs are upbeat in feel and heartbreaking in detail. Closing track Razzle Dazzle Rose is one of the greatest final tracks to an album I’ve ever heard. The band were reliably excellent live throughout the decade too. Much as 2009’s My Maudlin Career is a gorgeous sounding record, the band’s musical journey seems to have finished, as stylistically it is a retread of Let’s Get Out, which surely stands as one of the great indie albums of the decade.

5    Sleater-Kinney – The Woods    (2005)
Sleater-Kinney started the decade apparently threatening to go in ever-decreasing circles: after their outing with Roger Moutenot in 1999’s The Hot Rock, they returned to previous producer John Goodmanson for the more stripped-down All Hands On The Bad One in 2000, rounding off a trilogy of three superb albums in three years. But 2002’s One Beat, much as I enjoyed it, seemed to be the same thing with a few superficial bells and whistles added to the production. What an impressive relief it was, then, that the next album marked a raising of the band’s game and a concerted effort to take the sound to a new place, with Dave Fridmann at the production helm. The record erupted with Janet’s drums more furious than ever and feedback squalling everywhere. Bar the prog segue towards the end it was perfection, and captured the band’s reliable ferocity live. Sleater-Kinney albums always contained a bucket of good songs, but with this they made a truly great album as a whole for the first time. Then they split up. Tsk.

4    Junior Boys – So This Is Goodbye    (2006)
Hard to explain my love for this record: techno, electronica, hip-hop and whatever else this might get bracketed with are not usually up my musical street – the hard, clipped and artificial sounds turn me off, and even when that’s not a problem the tunes are lacking. But here is electronic music with warmth and atmosphere: the synth sounds offer a seductive late-night atmosphere, and the songs and vocals are compellingly melancholy. It has become one of the records I keep turning back to when I can’t decide what else to listen to.

3    Frankie Machine – Francis Albert Machine and Friends    (2002)
Frankie Machine, aka Rob Fleay, late of White Town and and erstwhile Validators bassist, released three utterly brilliant albums in the first half of the decade; any of them could have sat here credibly. For some reason, the name suggested noisy indie verging on metal to me, so I was utterly blown away by the delicate, acoustic vignettes of heartbreak and misery – in the best possible way. These songs aren’t ballads, they don’t sound much like The Smiths and they’re certainly not folk; rather, Rob has carved out a fabulous niche of acoustic indie. I’d like to hear Rob producing some other acts as well (further to his Validators production duties), as there’s a wealth of great detail on here – lovely arrangements, samples, guest instrumentation, all sorts. I’ve selected the first of the three albums for the list, as it works so well as a unit overall:essentially it’s a sequence of “proper” songs interspersed alternately with shorter, often highly, inventive numbers – it’s brilliant. Follow-up I Love You And I don’t Want You To Die compiles singles, B-sides and tracks from compilations, and works much better as an album than most compilations of this sort usually do; 2004’s Re-Unmelt My Heart was a more expansive effort that also gave me a huge amount of pleasure. Unfortunately for us, Rob seems to have cheered up a lot since then, and a further album is not on the horizon as far as I’m aware. I hope there will be another in the future.

2    Erin McKeown – Grand    (2003)
I had owned this record for probably over a year before finding out it was a concept piece about the life of Judy Garland – if I do have a gay side, I suppose it must be deeply buried. Perhaps I was distracted by the comparisons between McKeown and Elvis Costello. In truth they are a bit dubious: musically they are perhaps not that close together, but they do have a couple of things in common; they both write top-quality songs, and both resist the temptation to repeat themselves. Grand was an altogether more lush and varied affair than McKeown’s debut proper, the alt-country-ish Distillation, and 2005’s follow-up We Will Become Like Birds was different again, showcasing a more ‘live’ rock band sound. An album of showtunes followed in 2006, and a (slightly disappointing) live album in 2007, before Erin finally released a new album of original material with 2009’s Hundreds of Lions – sadly it turned out to be disappointingly boring, which is deeply unusual for her. I’m happy to treat it as a blip. It’s hard to say whether Erin is getting appropriate recognition in her native USA for this remarkably diverse and accomplished body of work, but she sure as hell isn’t getting it in the UK. Back on the subject of Grand, I’m not sure I need to say much more: if you’ve waded through the rest of this top 100, you’ll have an idea by now of what I enjoy in a record, and this one has those qualities in abundance. It’s a record of well-crafted songs with great lyrics and great tunes that doesn’t put a foot wrong; while it might take La Garland as its starting-point, in truth it has resonance much beyond this theme, and its war references seemed particularly striking after the invasion of Iraq. In that sense, this is a record that was at ease in its times, but will stand as a great achievement even when separated from this context for decades to come.

1    Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co    (2003)
Listening to this record is like taking a bath in warm, dusty melancholy. I’m not normally prone to dubious similes like that. But this record demands it. I’d hesitate to pin the ‘alt-country’ and ‘Americana’ labels on it, as they don’t do it justice; but you could apply both fairly accurately. Jason Molina put together an ensemble for this record that included some of the most melodic and atmospheric pedal steel and fiddle playing you’ll ever hear, along with some guest vocalists to add variety to the songs. They adorn his aching and bittersweet lyrics perfectly, and the result is a perfect set of eight songs. Curiously, I’m much more ambivalent about much of the rest of Molina’s canon: this record came after a period of making more sparse acoustic recordings, and was followed by a period of more chugging aggressive country-rock that lacked the depth and finesse on display here – even though he adopted this record’s title as the new name of his recording and touring band. Magnolia Electric Co finally produced a record of similar dexterity with 2009’s Josephine, although some of the themes and imagery were by now a tad well-worn – I love a song about ghosts and midnight, but you can have too much of a good thing. This 2003 outing remains, for my money, his definitive work, and is one of those records I keep going back to. A perfectly judged record.

Top 100 albums: 20-11

20    Murry the Hump – Songs of Ignorance    (2001)
Ah, Murry the Hump. They could have been the Welsh Bluetones – and I mean that in a very good way. The ground for jangly guitar indie was not fertile in 2001, and MTH didn’t get any further than being Peel and possibly Evening Session favourites (they did a split single with Hefner, fact fans). The songs were deeply tuneful tales of smoking weed in the Welsh Valleys, and occasionally getting laid. Thrown Like A Stone, The House That Used To Be A Ship, Cracking Up… these should be remembered as indie classics… No justice, eh? I returned to this record in a big way in 2009 and enjoyed it even more than I did at the time (when I bought it on gorgeous thick white vinyl – curiously featuring a track running order totally different to that on the CD). What a shame they didn’t include EP track (and eventual B-side) Kebab or Shag. I remember discovering a new student friend had also bought their Colouring Book EP in 1999, and enjoying playing the singles on student radio when they were released in 2001 – cracking. The band re-emerged as The Keys in 2003, and are apparently still going, but sounding alternately more twangy and more noisy. If you prefer a quirky indie jangle, look no further than this record.

19    Fleet Foxes – Fleet Foxes    (2008)
There’s not much folk or roots type music on this list: while I like a good bit of twangy country music, acoustic folky type stuff is too often over-earnest and lacking in tunes for my liking. Fleet Foxes’ triumphant achievement is to marry those rootsy sensibilities and traditions with an overpowering sense of melody; the gorgeous four-part harmonies simply deliver the knock-out blow. It can be hard to judge recent records without having much perspective on them in terms of time elapsed; but it seems uncontroversial to have this record high on the list.

18    The New Pornographers – Electric Version    (2003)
The New Pornographers are somewhat open to the charge that they just make the same record over and over again; but even if you go along with that critique, you’d have to admit their saving grace is that it’s a very very good record. In fact, it’s a slightly unfair accusation. The band is built around main songwriter AC Newman, with a few contributions per album from Dan Bejar and maybe Neko Case. Newman’s songs are in some ways perfect pop… but very convoluted pop, taking all sorts of unconventional melodic twists and turns. Debut record Mass Romantic grew out of some side-projectesque larking about, and presented Newman’s songs with a dense, aggressive musical backing. By the end of the decade, and their fourth album, the sound had become more mid-paced and clattery, with all sorts of more acousticy instruments thrown into the mix. For my money, their best outing was their sophomore effort, which took the template of the first album and gave it extra pace and sheen: the hook-filled melodies and Beach Boys harmonies really came to life with an urgency that seemed to get a bit lost on subsequent records. Newman himself has also put out a couple of solo albums, on which the songs are recognisable and the backing subtly different. You can credibly start with any of these albums for an idea of what he and the band are about; but Electric Version has a bit of an edge in my view.

17    Doves – Last Broadcast    (2002)
Who would have predicted that a band like Doves would emerge from Sub Sub? Although they are a grand and melancholy indie three-piece, perhaps the jump isn’t quite so stark. Doves are, after all, a band whose music inspires feeling more than thought; it is emotionally epic, without necessarily offering the most incisive lyrics. Another key trait is that the band seem to use the studio like another instrument; there is always interesting stuff going on if you want to listen out for it. The Last Broadcast showcases the best of all of this, with riff-laden and anthemic songs like Pounding and Words that seem even stronger now than they did at the time. At the time, of course, the uplifting There Goes The Fear was clearly the centrepiece of the album. But overall it’s maybe unfair to single out individual tracks; The Last Broadcast undeniably works across its full length, and remains probably the definitive Doves album.

16    The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes    (2006)
The Pipettes were one of the first bands I discovered after I moved to London, in a support slot for Quasi in April 2005. To me, their unabashed project to harness the strengths of the classic girl group sound, for no other reason than that it’s Bloody Good and has never stopped being Bloody Good, was utterly irresistible. And what’s more, they did a bloody good job of it: Pull Shapes, Why did You Stay?, Tell Me What You Want, It’s Not Love (But It’s Still A Feeling), and many more, were all joyously brilliant pop songs – there are no pretensions to anything other than good times and girl harmonies here. The album duly delivered in 2006, capturing the band’s sound perfectly, and taking them to headline slots at very respectable sizes of venue like Koko and the Shepherd’s Bush Empire. And then it all fell apart, with line-up changes and false starts to the next chapter in the group’s story. The line-up that briefly emerged in autumn 2008 had a battery of excellent new songs, perhaps moving on slightly from the 50s and 60s to the 70s and 80s, and impressively so – nothing would have disappointed more than a plain repeat of the first album. But more turmoil ensued, and it looks like it will be four years from the release of We Are The Pipettes until its follow-up hits the shelves. But I’m looking forward to that record, and still enjoy this one – win-win, really.

15    The Broken Family Band – Balls     (2006)
I first encountered the BFB as a support act for Chris T-T at a small gig in the Champion of the Thames in Cambridge, in earlier 2003. Only when they played a storming set at that year’s Strawberry Fair did I realise that’s who it had been. From then on, they became the live act I’ve seen more than any other bar MJ Hibbett (I think). The last of these occasions came in October 2009, after they had announced their imminent split. They are therefore a band that to alarge extent defines my musical listening over the decade, and their demise represented the death of another link with my time as a student. As you might infer, they were a tremendous live proposition, thanks not only to utterly committed playing from all band members, but also to Steve Adams’ sardonic, comic and often grotesquely rude onstage presence; undoubtedly he is one of the best frontmen of any British band of recent years. And also one of the best songwriters – while it’s hard to pin down any central theme to the BFB’s songs, ups and downs of relationships are prominently in there, and unpicked in a brutal and often unexpected way. Then again, drugs, robots and religion seemed to keep cropping up as well. Initially the band were known for a rough alt-country schtick, but they eventually evolved a sound that was superficially more of a straight indie-rock effort… but it was still unmistakably the Broken Family Band. This album, their third (coming in a run of three albums and two mini-albums from 2002 to 2007, before a final LP in 2009), catches them on the cusp of the transition, with the superb opening trio of You’re Like A Woman, It’s All Over and I See How You Are straying a long way from the world of country. The Americana returns elsewhere on the record, not least in the hilariously bile-filled (but ultimately slightly misogynistic) ballad Alone In the Make-Out Room, a duet with Piney Gir. Other BFB records tended to be a mix of superb songs and Merely Very Good ones (and don’t get me wrong – these are Very Good Songs of the type that most bands would kill for), but every cut on here is absolutely top-drawer. If you only buy one Broken Family Band record, make it this one. But really you should buy them all.

14    MJ Hibbett and the Validators – Regardez, Ecoutez et Repetez    (2009)
Hm, where to start with this? I reviewed this record more extensively than I do with most when it was released, and have probably written at greater length about it than any of the others on this list. So I’m going to cheat and refer you to that review. Well, I reckon that’s at least regardez-ing and repetez-ing, innit?

13    Immaculate Machine – Ones and Zeros    (2005)
One of the best examples of finding a favourite band through a support slot: Immaculate Machine were the support act for the New Pornographers’ first ever show in London, in 2005 – Dan Paton and I both thoroughly enjoyed their set, despite not knowing any of the songs or anything about the band. They were at this point a three-piece, comprised of drums, guitar and keyboards (also supplying basslines), with all three on vocals – though principally the songs were led either by guitarist Brooke or keyboardist Kathryn. The energetic, clattery and tuneful set reproduced, it turned out, the band’s albums to that point. Subsequent album Fables presented a tighter, more concise sound, and perhaps slightly less interesting; by 2009, the line-up had changed at least once into a more conventional five-piece, and at the time of writing still seemed to be somewhat in flux. Still, Ones and Zeros stands as probably the most compelling record from the band – top-quality songs played with fabulous skill and conviction, it’s another one of those pesky albums from Canada that nobody in this country seems to know about.

12    Amy Winehouse – Back to Black    (2006)
The distasteful circus that Amy Winehouse’s life became in 2007 and 2008 shouldn’t be allowed to detract from the achievement that this record represents. Half its strength lies in its production, for which Mark Ronson perhaps deserves all the credit, but the songs are devastatingly well-written, and perfectly suit Ronson’s treatment of them in producing an old-fashioned no-nonsense soul record. The fact that the love triangle detailed in its lyrics eventually resolved itself with Amy marrying and divorcing the ‘ex’ figure here perhaps robs the record of a bit of its sharpness… But it shouldn’t. And Amy did, after all, tell us she was trouble… This is one of the few records that manages to live up to the hype borne of its critical acclaim, its commercial success and of course its extra-curricular promotion by its author in the tabloids. The trouble is that even a singer in good shape would struggle to top this; Back to Black may well stand as the high-water mark of Amy Winehouse’s creativity. But let’s hope not – if she can develop further from this record, imagine how good the next album could be.

11    Half Man Half Biscuit – Trouble Over Bridgwater    (2000)
Although they re-formed in the ’90s, this was the decade in which Half Man Half Biscuit finally seemed to find their feet, thanks to the internet. From playing the smaller student union venues in the late ’90s, they graduated to the likes of the Manchester Academy and Shepherds Bush Empire by the mid-2000s. This was the first of four excellent albums, any of which would have dignified this list with their presence. I’ve chosen this in preference to the others partly because it was the album that got me into HMHB, and partly for the bouncy chorus consisting purely of the line “I’ve been in a mental hospital” over and over again, which to me still represents unparallelled genius.

Top 100 albums: 30-21

30    Calexico / Iron and Wine – In The Reins    (2005)
Arguably this short album is the highlight of the careers to date of both sides of the collaboration: Sam Beam’s subtle and evocative lyrics and unerring melodies are backed up by Calexico with a wonderful sureness of touch. High-calibre songwriting; anyone with doubts about the alt-country tag could do a lot worse than start here. A real thoroughbred record.

29    Laura Cantrell  – Not the Tremblin’ Kind    (2000)
John Peel’s championing of this record was one of the things that ultimately interested me in country music during the first few years of the decade. Its great asset is Cantrell’s delightfully clear, controlled and sweet voice, not to mention good taste – she selected here, as on her subsequent two albums, a set of classy songs, mostly ballads, played with minimal fuss but still some lovely arrangements. To me, it’s more or less the quintessential country record; Somewhere, Some Night is certainly the textbook explanation of how to use a pedal steel guitar on a record. If you have your doubts about country music, start here.

28    Alfie – Crying at Teatime    (2005)
Back in 2000, five bands suddenly seemed to emerge from Manchester: Badly-Drawn Boy, Doves, Elbow, I Am Kloot and Alfie. Somehow Alfie, despite being a former BDB backing band like Doves, seemed to turn into the runt of the litter. Their initial output of plinky, folksy and scruffily twee indie somehow didn’t engage the critics in the same enduring way as the arguably more heavyweight – in different ways – material of the others. Which was a heck of a shame: after a first album that collated their initial EPs, and a debut proper in much the same vein, Alfie’s next two albums took an interesting turn. 2003’s Do You Imagine Things took on seventies influences, both pub and prog rock in places, while 2005’s Crying At Teatime was the real deal: n fully rounded-out, utterly lovely Alfie record, giving a wonky and endearing look at the world and its weird ways. It was a record with buckets of charm, and I was really struck by how well it stood up when I returned to it four years later. A fabulously shambolic and endearing set at the Scala in the autumn of 2005 seemed to confirm the band’s genius, but the fact that the venue was half-empty should have told me there was trouble on the way. The band announced their split shortly afterwards, mainly on the basis that nobody was especially interested – criminal.

27    Tender Trap – Film Molecules (2002)
Among the fanzine circles I inhabited in the late 1990s, just in time to see them before the internet rendered them extinct, Amelia Fletcher was still revered as a goddess. She had made a return with Marine Research – essentially Heavenly with DJ Downfall taking the place of her late brother Matthew on drums – and their smashing album Sounds from the Gulf Stream. Late one night in 2000, DJ Downfall began downloading one of my brother’s MP3s on Napster, and in the ensuing chat revealed that relationship trouble between the couples in the band meant they had split. La Fletcher returned in 2002, with Tallulah Gosh / Heavenly / Marine Research survivor Rob Pursey and DJ Downfall. The trio embraced technology as a way of adapting to reduced numbers, and the loops and samples used to create Film Molecules, along with some moments of more traditional guitar indie such as O Katrina, mark it out as possibly the best and most creative record from this particular stable. I’m not sure if it’s because my tolerance for twee has diminished in my 20s, but I’ve been less convinced by subsequent offerings from Tender Trap: 2006’s 6 Billion People was much more conventionally-recorded, and less interesting for it, while an expanded five (or six? I was drunk when I saw them, sorry) piece line-up seemed to be ploughing an already well-ploughed furrow to me. Still, it would be churlish to accuse Amelia Fletcher of being in any sense the emperor’s new clothes – you can’t deny the affection in which she’s held by (the now middle-aged sections of) the world of indie.

26    Hefner  – We Love The City    (2000)
Probably the definitive Hefner album; Darren Hayman’s songwriting seemed to strike a rich vein of form with these city-inspired tales of the sordid and sublime, while the dabs of orchestration gave it both colour and character. Hefner’s Maida Vale session for the Peel show was surely among the finest live sets he broadcast – check out the album of it that emerged in 2006 under the title Maida Vale for proof. Would it be going too far to suggest We Love The City represents the best and truest example of genuine indie? Probably the best and truest on this list, anyway. Its sequel Dead Media took such an unexpected and different direction for Hefner that both albums warrant inclusion on this list.

25    Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!    (2007)
It’s been quite a decade for the Super Furries, and amid all the clamour to proclaim Radiohead the ‘band of the decade’, Gruff Rhys should perhaps get a nod both for being incredibly prolific and for the range of projects he has successfully pulled off, both solo and as half of Neon Neon. Among SFA albums, there is a lot of choice, but for the best overall it’s surely between this and 2003’s Phantom Power. Some of their output is long-winded and self-indulgent, and for all their good ideas and tunes, 2001’s Rings Around the World, 2005’s Love Kraft and 2009’s Dark Days / Light Years don’t hold my attention across their full length. The NME’s choice of Ring Around the World as the pick of the bunch is especially mystifying; the best explanation I can come up with is a young set of writers feeling nostalgia for their teens. Hey Venus, however, is the perfect Super Furries album: it doesn’t try to do anything too clever, but just dumps tune after tune, whimsy after whimsy, in a ruthlessly controlled and measured way. There’s no flab on this album, which is what I like about it, but there’s a richness to it at the same time that most bands can never deliver.

24    I Am Kloot  – Gods and Monsters    (2005)
When I did my final student radio show before graduating, a few people emailed in asking if I was going to play records by certain bands. Nobody said Elvis Costello or Sleater-Kinney, oddly, but a couple of people did as about I Am Kloot. I’d first encountered them at the same rainy D:Percussion festival in 2000 where I first saw Elbow, and championed them somewhat during my time on student radio. By the time I left in 2003, they were about to release their second album, and student stations had copies several months in advance (so I did play them on that show, of course). My pick of their four studio albums is the third, although any would be credible: what I particularly like about Gods and Monsters is the roughness of the recording, which captures the edge of menace that Kloot often put across in their consistently excellent live shows. Their debut album, produced by Elbow’s Guy Garvey and Craig Potter, seemed a bit muted in that regard – their fifth will have the same production team, so it will be interesting to see how that turns out. Albums two and four were rather more smoothly produced, and I very nearly put 2008’s Play Moulah Rouge on the list… But you’ve got to make a choice eventually, and if someone wanted to know what I Am Kloot are about, I’d tell them to listen to Gods and Monsters.

23 Sylvie Lewis  – Tangos and Tantrums    (2004)
Sylvie Lewis – daughter of newsreader Martyn, fact fans – put out a couple of smashing albums around the middle of the decade; nobody took much notice and last time I looked it was all quiet on the Sylvie front. Her PR portrayed her as a chanteuse in the best continental style, and deservedly so: both albums showcase her utterly beautiful and accomplished voice – it’s clear Sylvie is a singer who thinks hard about how she is going to sing a song, and knows how to get the best out of it. She also proved on both albums – this and 2007’s Translations – that she is a brilliant songwriter, capturing all shades of romance with a delightful finesse. This collection perhaps has the slight edge as far as I’m concerned because it contains slightly more of my personal favourites, not least All His Exes and Promises of Paris – I might be wrong, but Sylvie seems to write on both piano and guitar, and I prefer the piano compositions (if that’s what they are) slightly. I very much hope there is more music to come from Sylvie Lewis over the next decade.

22 Neko Case – The Tigers have Spoken    (2004)
I’ve really struggled to pick a single Neko Case record to include here. Over the course of the decade she has taken a journey from country balladry into country noir, and out the other side, into something rather more pastoral and optimistic. This album of live recordings, however, catches her more rollicking live form, taking in her own songs and numerous covers; as an overview of Case’s music it’s probably as good as you’ll get (if only someone would release her amazing Maida Vale live set for John Peel in 2000 – I’ve still got my home-taped recording of that, and it was truly astounding). Neko has established herself as one of the most distinctive and impressive voices – both literally and figuratively – in North American music, and no record collection can be taken entirely seriously without at least one of her albums.

21    Morrissey – Morrissey, You Are The Quarry    (2004)
By the time Morrissey released this album, he had gone for longer without releasing any new material than he had spent in the Smiths. It’s hard to forget now that it was a bit of a surprise he was releasing another record at all; his career really did look becalmed. But what a triumph the return was. Morrissey albums always seem to contain a mix of blindingly good songs and somewhat lesser ones, but this collection is probably the closest he’s got to an album that’s consistent all the way through. Among its highlights, however, were songs that instantly took their places alongside the highlights of his solo career to date, particularly Irish Blood, English Heart and First of the Gang To Die – I still remember being amazed that Irish Blood, in particular, heralded Moz’s comeback with such a confident, hard-edged and contemporary sound; it could, after all, have turned out to be embarrassing. He was still a bit prone to going on about the court case, but never mind; the whole comeback, both album and live shows, was done with such aplomb that you have to feel a bit sorry for him being denied number one in either the single or albums charts.

Top 100 albums: 40-31

40 At The Drive-In – Relationship of Command    (2000)
With hindsight, I regret not sticking around to see At The Drive-In’s set at the Leeds festival in 2000, as a year later they were defunct. I caught the first track, which was a squall of noise and Cedric the singer climbing all over the amps… I can’t remember now exactly who I went to see in preference; it might have been Badly-Drawn Boy… Anyway, this album managed to be noisy and noodly without being prog, and screamy without being inane. Its lyrics were pretentious wank, but they were improved by the music. If you’re in the mood for some angry shouty music, you’d still struggle to do better than this.

39    Shivaree  – Rough Dreams    (2002)
When I was on student radio, I regularly contributed to a news and reviews show called, believe it or not, The Music Show. This programme would decide a Single of the Week for the station, and Shivaree provided one of the earliest, during the show’s first term, in the form of Goodnight Moon. We were somewhat amazed that lead singer Ambrosia Parsley’s name was real… but apparently it is. The album that accompanied Goodnight Moon generally lacked its atmosphere and character, but its follow-up, Rough Dreams, was far more consistent, effective, and smoothly produced. It was very much the album that I had hoped Shivaree would produce… and it sank without trace. And that was only in the UK: in their native America, record company shenanigans meant it never even got a proper release – indeed one track was recycled for the next record, 2005’s Who’s Got Trouble?. That record was, however, a bit too consistently mid-paced, and I’d still recommend Rough Dreams, if you can track it down, as the definitive atmospheric and sophisticated Shivaree album.

38 Feist  – The Reminder    (2007)
More good stuff from Canada, where Ms Feist seems to be a collaborator, or even protege, of Ron Sexsmith, whose Secret Heart she covered to great affect on this album’s predecessor Let It Die. Mushaboom, also from that record, was used in a perfume commercial, but the confident production on this album led to even greater commercial use, not least to promote Apple services and products. But for once I don’t particularly mind: Feist is a distinctive songwriter whose jaunty tunes and lovely vocals are the sort of delight one normally finds languishing in undeserved obscurity. That said, this isn’t a very immediate record: on my first few listens, I was actively disappointed by it – though smoothly produced, it’s un-ostentatious, and there’s little to grab onto in the music. You need to put the work in and get to grips with these songs: though they sound deceptively effortless and simple, they’re rich and well-judged.

37    Yeah Yeah Yeahs  – Show Your Bones    (2006)
There’s lots of reasons to admire the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Karen O’s uniquely clear and pure vocals, the un-obvious drumming, the scroungling guitar, the effortless pop hooks. But perhaps more impressive than anything is their reluctance to repeat themselves: their three albums have all sounded distinct from each other, but have all worked superbly. I’ve gone for this one because the acoustic guitars let the songs stretch out, and give it a lovely open spacious sound. I look forward to seeing what the band do over the next ten years.

36    J Xaverre – These Acid Stars    (2003)
Who would have thought, when Kenickie split up, that five years later their members would, between them, have produced only one album, and that would have been from Pete Gofton, aka Johnny X, aka J Xaverre? I used to have a massive Kenickie obsession, to the point where these days, on the odd occasion when my friends meet former members of Kenickie, they immediately text me about it. And long may it continue. But back to 2003: unexpected as it might have seemed, Gofton emerged as something slightly sideways from a balladeering singer-songwriter, with a rather lovely lo-fi/hi-fi production job on it. I’m struggling to think of any obvious comparison points, other than perhaps a more electronic Badly Drawn Boy – this too is a delightfully produced yet hopespun indie one-man effort. Lovely.

35    McLusky – McLusky Do Dallas    (2002)
Song titles on this album include: The World Loves Us And Is Our Bitch, Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues, Dethink to Survive and To Hell With Good Intentions. Manic and deranged lyrics are coupled with manic and deranged playing, by an apparently alcohol-fuelled trio of deliriously noisy Welshmen. This was the middle of three albums, and probably the best – if you’re in the mood for some cathartic indie thrashing, this is an almost endlessly listenable record.

34    Life Without Buildings – Any Other City    (2000)
Looking back, I’m surprised I was quite so taken by an album as self-consciously arty as this, but I listened to it a lot after buying it (admittedly a good year or so after it was released in 2000, when I remember hearing the band doing a rather good session for Steve Lamacq). Musically the setup was simple: guitar, bass, drums playing an angular type of thing that would have been a lot more fashionable seven or eight years later. But the USP of Life Without Buildings (also: what a bloody brilliant name for a band! Try imagining it. Go on, try it!) was Sue Tompkins’ breathy stream-of-consciousness vocals, pouring out over the songs apparently uncontrollably. The overall effect was quite compelling. Although the band split up in about 2002, a retrospective live album, recorded in Sydney, was released in 2007 and brought me more pleasure than most other albums from that year, even though the performance was largely a note-for-note replication of this album. I really regret never getting to see this band live.

33    Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump    (2000)
Context is a funny thing. Before its release this album was touted as “the next Soft Bulletin” by the NME, which in turn had seen that album as following in the footsteps of their 1998 album of the year, Mercury Rev’s overrated Deserters’ Songs. From the other end of the decade, The Sophtware Slump stands out as the strongest album from a band that seemed somewhat pointless as time marched on. The album rightly identifies the growing role of technology in our lives as a pertinent theme, but the unease with which it seems to view this development now seems rather misplaced and quaint. Nonetheless, for an album about robots and rockets, it’s impressively melancholy, even epic. It was surprising that its follow-up, Sumday, was so one-dimensional by comparison, although I seem to be unusual in holding Grandaddy’s final album Just Like The Fambly Cat – effectively a Jason Lytle solo outing – almost equal in esteem to this 2000 outing. But not quite: this album is neatly crafted and seems to feature Lytle being unusually clear in knowing what he wants to say. I remember seeing the band live in the Hop and Grape in Manchester shortly after I left school; Badly Drawn Boy was in the audience and I wrote it up in my fanzine. Those were the days.

32    Elbow – Asleep in the Back    (2001)
Elbow were one of the bands that emerged from Manchester in 2000; I first encountered them at the same rainy D:Percussion festival at the Castlefield arena where I first saw I Am Kloot. So it was deeply gratifying and pleasing to see their Mercury Prize win in 2008; back in 2001, just after they had missed out to PJ Harvey in the Mercury for their debut album, I interviewed Pete and Craig for student radio. So, much as I admire Elbow and feel an attachment to them, I’ve got to admit that if there’s a criticism to be had of them, it’s that they do tend to produce the same record every time. Saying that, it’s a smashing record, of grand scope but always intimate, melancholy but uplifting, intense but always enjoyable. Perhaps partly for nostalgic reasons, but also I think because the songs on it were particularly strong and immediate, of their four albums I’m still inclined to rate Asleep In The Back most highly.

31    The Hidden Cameras – Awoo    (2006)
Their third album, Awoo was probably the record the Hidden Cameras had been threatening to make since they wandered over from Canada to these shores in c.2003. Their first album and a superb show at the now long-defunct Boat Race in Cambridge remain among the more pleasant memories of my last year as a student. A swift follow-up LP, Missisauga Goddamn, was a bit of a disappointmend in 2004, but with Awoo they nailed the gay politics, with striking vocals from Joel Gibb and a musical backdrop that veered between the indie and the baroque. 2009’s Origin: Orphan was even grander, seeming to aim at a James Bond theme sound in places, and perhaps if I’d had a chance to get some more perspective on it, I would have included it here instead. And to think this is a band who were sometimes compared with the wretched and pointless Polyphonic Spree.

Top 100 albums: 50-41

50    The Coral – The Coral    (2002)
I’ve a feeling I once spurned a chance to see this band’s first gig under the name The Coral, in favour of seeing… something else, can’t remember what now. In fact I never ended up seeing them live, and am not really sure if they’re still going. That’s not bad research: it’s because I don’t really care. From 2003, The Coral became an incredibly boring band, with bland arrangements exposing their crass and rubbish lyrics that made me think maybe Cast weren’t all that bad. What a shame this often seems to be the great weakness of Liverpudlian bands. Still, this shouldn’t be allowed to obscure what a brilliant album their debut effort was: clattery and ramshackle, with everything including numerous kitchen sinks thrown at it, it was a charming and infectious album. The song Dreaming of You was widely regarded as an indie classic for a few years afterwards; I suspect that now, as far as most people are concerned, it’s in the category of song you’ve not heard for ages but are really glad to hear should it ever come on the radio. But there was more to the album than that, and producer Ian Broudie’s decision to rein in the harmonies, jangly guitars and demented key arrangements for subsequent material robbed the band of much of their charm. Still, it’s recorded for posterity on this record.

49    Piney Gir – Peakahokahoo (2004) and Hold Yer Horses  (2006)
Piney Gir is an American singer, based in London. I first encountered her providing additional vocals to the Broken Family Band’s 2006 album Balls, but by that stage she had already released her first album, Peakahokahoo. It is a record that does not for a moment suggest a country and western singer, even though with the BFB she seemed the definitive example of such a being; rather, it is an electro-pop album, and a bloody good one. Piney herself had by this point put together her own Country Roadshow, and with them was playing a solo set of country originals, including bold adaptations of some of her electro material. The 2006 album Hold Yer Horses showcased that side to her music: they are both so good, yet so different, that I’ve cheated and included both rather than trying to separate them out. Unfortunately, some of the re-worked material from Peakahokahoo seemed to squeeze out some of Piney’s live favourites with the Country Roadshow, which as far as I know have still yet to be released. Still, that’s a niggle. A follow-up album eventually emerged in the form of 2009’s The Yearling… which was a bit of a mish-mash of Americana, electronica and pop, but didn’t really convince me unfortunately, despite having some lovely songs on it. Still, you could do much worse than track down this fascinating pair of records.

48    The Long Blondes – Someone to Drive You Home    (2006)
When Andrew Collins reviewed The Long Blondes’ second album, 2008’s Couples, he contrasted it to their debut by saying that, unlike the earlier album, it had some tunes. To this day, I suspect he had in fact not heard the first album before, and had somehow got the two mixed up when preparing for the review. The follow-up was heralded by the single Century in which the band took an unexpected electronic direction; the rest of the album, however, was a more traditional guitar album, but a rather thin, scratchy and self-absorbed one. The next and final chapter in the band’s story was deeply sad – guitarist Dorian Cox suffered a stroke and the band dissolved when it became clear he would not be able to play again for the foreseeable future. Skip back three years and I first encountered the Long Blondes supporting Sleater-Kinney at a secret gig at the Barfly; they were rubbish. Later, I thought I’d just misjudged them on the basis that I didn’t know the songs; but when they wheeled out the old “favourites” (ie B-sides and early EP tracks) in the encore of a gig promoting the first album, they were indeed a big let-down after they’d played the album. Because – and this is where I’ve been getting to – Someone to Drive You Home is tremendous. Perhaps the fact that Cox wrote most of the lyrics that Kate Jackson sings adds a certain dark, close to pornographic, edge. Musically it’s very early-80s, with lots of scratchy and jangly guitar, but without the crap amps that make so many of those early indie records sound rubbish now. Jackson herself sings powerfully and with conviction throughout, and established herself as a charismatic frontwoman. The production is more subtle and less straigtforward than it first seems – Steve Mackay arguably presided over a more consistent album in this than any of Pulp’s. Perhaps this was really the only record the Long Blondes ever really needed to make; they certainly couldn’t follow it up convincingly, and however sad their end was, we at least have this record to remember them by.

47    Gillian Welch – Time the Revelator    (2001)
This is an uncompromising record, and all the better for it. It features only Welch, David Rawlings and their respective guitars, plus some lovely warm reverb. It therefore has a purity and consistency that its successor, 2003’s Soul Journey, lacked. It showcases classic-sounding songs that command the attention, and plenty of old-time American ambience. Despite its quietness and slowness, I can spend a lot of time listening to this record and maintain my focus on it – quite an achievement.

46    Lambchop – Is A Woman (2002) and Nixon (2000)
This is another cheat, as with the Piney albums, but I think it’s a justified one: Lambchop’s first two albums of the decade were very different beasts, but both excellent, so rather than trying to choose between the two I’m going to put them both in the list. Nixon was a lush and soulful record, while Is A Woman was sparse, restrained and at times obscure. Both are underpinned by Kurt Wagner’s descriptive lyrics, at times acutely observed and at times wonderfully figurative, and of course his captivating delivery, gruff yet clear and measured. Lambchop released some more good records during the decade, but none was quite so fascinating as either of these.

45    Thomas Tantrum – Thomas Tantrum    (2008)
When I first encountered Thomas Tantrum on Marc Riley’s 6Music show, I instantly thought of Life Without Buildings, purely on the basis that both bands feature lead singers that sound like rather annoyed little girls. In fact even this comparison is unfair: LWB offered essentially spoken word stream-of-consciousness, while the Tantrum’s songs are actually more like, well, proper songs. Musically, LWB were arty, while Thomas Tantrum are pure angular indie; even if you ignore Megan’s breathless vocals for a moment, there’s plenty of interest to be had in the twisty guitar lines. Overall, a better comparison might be Kenickie: not because they sound similar, but because although at first glance they sound like throwaway shouty grrrlpop fun, in truth there is a lot more going on. These are proper songs, and bloody good ones – the second half of the album in particular offers some introspective and claustrophobic lyrics. Combine that with the enjoyably noisy music, and you’ve got an album I’ve listened to more than most on this list. I’ll be fascinated to see where Thomas Tantrum go from here.

44    Le Tigre – This Island    (2004)
Le Tigre will probably always be best remembered for their debut album, but it came out in 1999 and so isn’t eligible for this list. Its follow-up, 2001’s Feminist Sweepstakes, was a startling drop in form – ranting has its place, but it really needs some tunes to go with it, and the band seemed to have left those out. So I very nearly didn’t bother with This Island – can’t remember what changed my mind now, in fact – but it would have been a mistake. With this album, Le Tigre produced the politically-charged but classy pop terrorism they had always threatened. Iraq and the 2004 Presidential election fired up many American artists to good effect – Steve Earle was one, Kathleen Hanna was another – and while that may now date the record a bit, it’s still comfortably Le Tigre’s greatest achievement.

43    Paul Burch – Fool for Love    (2003)
Paul Burch is a country singer, and someone who got me into the genre. Burch is the real thing: you won’t find him doing smoothly-produced soft-rock with the vaguest twang, but you will find him in the less salubrious honky-tonks of Nashville, or immersed in historical accounts of American folk traditions. Fool for Love was his fifth album, released in the UK on the ever-reliable Shoeshine records, and recorded without his usual backing band the WPA Ballclub. In truth any of those five albums could sit happily on this list (barring that the first two were released in the late ’90s); this is top-quality songwriting and the wary listener shouldn’t be put off by the genre. In some respects you could happily call it lo-fi indie. But I particularly like this album and its predecessor-but-one Blue Notes because they have a lot of heart and feeling. Its successor, 2006’s East to West, was rather too smoothly produced (under Mark Knopfler’s influence, I infer), while its more authentic-sounding follow-up, 2009’s Still Your Man, was just somehow slightly dull by comparison. It almost seems as if domestic happiness has blunted Burch’s songwriting edge a bit. Still, never mind: he’s never less than enjoyable live and I hope he comes to the UK again soon; in the meantime, there are riches to be found in his back catalogue.

42    Badly-Drawn Boy – The Hour of the Bewilderbeast    (2000)
I was initiated into the cult of Badly Drawn Boy by my early gig-going companion Jim, who soon referred to him as Badders. I followed, and the nickname now persists among several people who’ve never met Jim, but at least one of whom has met Badders himself. Harsh though it might seem, this album has probably been diminished by Badders’ seeming inability to recapture his mojo over the rest of the decade. The About A Boy soundtrack was a worthwhile side-step, while Have You Fed The Fish was perhaps a bit smoothly-produced and arguably had a running order that masked its quality somewhat, but was still a creditable album. By 2003, Badders was promising to head back to his roots, producing the new album in Stockport with long-time collaborator Andy Votel. Yet for some reason, One Plus One Is One seemed not to work: its arrangements seemed lifeless compared to the live renditions of the songs either by Damon solo or on the subsequent tour; lyrically, they seemed a bit suspect at times too. By 2006, Born In The UK seemed like a rather pointless record of sometimes interesting music but almost uniformly terrible lyrics; the domestic happiness that blossomed for Damon around the time of Bewilderbeast seemed to rob him of his creativity a few years down the line, and he appears to have been in an indecisive limbo ever since. His live form also suffered: his long shows at the start of the decade were undeniably joyous, but by the time I saw him in 2007 the set seemed to be a plodding parody of former glories. In that context, The Hour of the Bewilderbeast has suffered a bit: it’s now harder to overlook that the lyrics are often verging on the banal. But the tunes and the arrangements have held up extremely well; the record has an open and warm sound that Damon has struggled to replicate since, and Once Around the Block – admittedly a song from 1999, really – is for my money one of the best-arranged recordings ever to be made in the UK. But the very strengths of this album have dogged Badders: all he has done since has been judged against almost impossible standards, and found wanting.

41 The Maccabees – Wall of Arms    (2009)
My blog review from earlier in the year. This is a record with a lot of listens in it – it has established itself on my MP3 player as the thing I listen to when I can’t decide what else to listen to. Comparisons to Arcade Fire without all the strings would be obvious. It’s played pretty hard and straight by a superficially conventional guitar-band line-up of sounds, but for all that, it has a real sense if driving purpose. I was actually surprised to learn, after listening to it for the first time, that it was produced by Markus Dravs, the man who presided over the disappointment of Arcade Fire’s curiously muted and muffled-sounding Neon Bible. I’ve also been grappling with the curious cover to this record: I think I’ve concluded it’s a good cover, but not for this album, which seems to me to demand artwork more abstract and dense if it’s to fit the music. Overall, though, it’s an impressive outing from a band I’d previously lumped in with all those boring white male guitar bands whose names I get mixed up. Their Glastonbury set strongly suggested it’s a big step on from their debut, whose material sounded pretty uninteresting by comparison.

Top 100 albums: 60-51

60    Gorillaz – Demon Days    (2005)
Quite a daring proposition, really: a virtual and fictitious cartoon band seems like a rather tiresome conceit, and in truth I never took much notice of the animation side of this project. Even without it, this is an audaciously good album, with all the disparate collaborators and styles stitched together into perfect pop music. Perhaps a bit long? Churlish. Perhaps the multimedia approach has left it looking a bit dated now, more so than other records from the time, but it would be unfair if it were to become overlooked. One of the many failings of the NME’s Top 50 list is the omission of this, but inclusion of the Avalanches’ similarly synthetic but ultimately less worthwhile Since I Left You.

59    Santogold – Santogold    (2008)
I never really found much out about Santogold, but this is a brilliantly-judged pop album. A massive blend of influences, from indie pop to reggae and apparently Middle-Eastern sounds. Well worth a listen.

58    The Handsome Family – Last Days of Wonder    (2006)
To a large extent The Handsome Family make the same album every time, but it’s always extremely listenable. Brett Sparks’ deep voice and Rennie’s peculiar lyrics are among the most recognisable sounds in American music; it seems sincerely meant although perhaps it’s as well to take it all with a pinch of salt. But there are dependably excellent melodies bolted on as well, which sells the endeavour as far as I’m concerned. I’ve never seen them live, although I’ve noted the venom with which Frankie Machine regards them, having seen them once; I’m not sure if that’s a fair reflection on the live shows, but it certainly doesn’t accurately reflect the wonky charm of the records.

57    My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves    (2003)
My Morning Jacket are one of the bands I encountered in my final year at university and have followed with interest ever since. It was perhaps as well that I encountered them live first of all, where their easy-rocking tunes and Jim James’s echo-swamped vocals were showcased to best effect – with plenty of humour and hair. Their album of around that time, At Dawn, contained a lot of accessible songs, but as Dan Paton once put it to me, once you’d seen them live it felt like they had all been recorded slightly too slow. There was also some rather rambling self-indulgent stuff as well. 2005’s Z was probably their most accessible record overall – plenty of solos and stoner rock, but reasonably concise and with some unusual excursions into reggae and something approaching synth pop here and there. By 2008 James had clearly found lurrvve and the resulting album, Evil Urges, was a sentimental affair – but overall I felt it worked really well. For my pick of the decade, however, I’m going with 2003’s It Still Moves: it’s a very long album at over 70 minutes, has many long songs and lots of solos – for that reason, a lot of listeners found it less accessible than At Dawn and concluded it wasn’t as good. But they were wrong – it needs a lot of listens, but will repay them handsomely. Every moment on this record has value, and I think it stands as a greater achievement than the two more immediate albums that followed.

56    British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power    (2003)
This album almost breaks my rules about needing to be good al the way through, as it contains a ten-minute track that I always skip through; shorn of that and the opening thirty-second vocal intro track, it’s really just nine songs… and actually all the better for it. I bought it one afternoon after an exam in my finals had not gone as well as I’d hoped, and it cheered me up. BSP’s distinctive sound is now well-known, but it was fresh and striking then (admittedly these songs had been knocking round as singles for 18 months, but had largely passed me by); the breathy vocals and jagged guitars were complemented by a lovely warmth of sound that you don’t normally get in indie rock. I was there in 2007’s Do You Like Rock Music? but somehow absent from 2005’s Open Season, which seemed a bit perfunctory as a result. Back in 2003, however, I spent months listening to this: it’s one of those records where at first the songs really sound the same, but with a lot of listens distinguish themselves from one another. Seven quid well spent at Fopp that day.

55    Misty’s Big Adventure – Misty’s Big Adventure and their place in the Solar Hi-Fi System    (2004)
I regard myself as slightly jinxed where Misty’s are concerned: I always seem to be unable to make arrangements, or have other commitments, or have something go wrong, whenever I try to see them live, with the net result I’ve only seen them twice – once in 2003 just before my finals and again in 2007 just before Christmas. I regret letting other chances go begging really, as they’re always a great proposition live and tremendous fun. Rather like Madness, they are also musically very good and reliably put out records that have much more substance to them than might be expected from such an overtly funny and poppy band. This, their debut, was pretty well fully-formed, and their subsequent records have been every bit as good. If you’re looking to get into Misty’s – which I strongly advise – you could happily either start here and work forward, or start with 2007’s somewhat melancholy Funny Times and work back. Either way, you’ll enjoy it. Frontman Grandmaster Gareth’s solo albums are also worth tracking down – I deeply regret drunkenly leaving a copy I’d just bought on the tube after that gig in 2007. Oh well.

54    Flipron – Biscuits for Cerberus    (2006)
Flipron are one of the bands I got to know through the acoustic stage at Strawberry Fair in Cambridge, where I saw them play in 2006. Musically they have a woozy combination or vaguely psychedelic organ and twangy guitar or lap steel going on, but their eccentric lyrics are what really set them apart. On this album, their second, Youth and Old Age have a race, brides are available in flat-pack by mail order, dogs howl and Cerberus keeps guard. Manic and hugely enjoyable stuff that deserves a wider audience.

53    Pet Shop Boys – Yes    (2009)
My blog review from earlier in the year. I question whether I should even bother writing about records when the Metro says it all. It described this album as being “like a greatest hits, but with new songs”. Exactly right: it sounds like, and is, a classic Pet Shop Boys album. Purely synthesised music often leaves me a bit cold, and even here I struggle a bit to retain my interest throughout – but that’s just me. I’m not sure that Xenomania have added much other than a dollop of traditional Pet Shop Boys sound – happily they’ve used the squelchy synth sounds they seem to favour quite sparingly. I’ve only got into the Pet Shop Boys a little recently, and I’m glad they’ve steered away from the rather chronic acoustic guitar-drive stuff of the 90s and more recently; much as I hesitate to applaud a band for playing to everyone’s expectations, the result here has been a triumph.

52    Hefner  – Dead Media    (2001)
Sadly, the album that arguably finished Hefner off before their time. The indie kids of Britain were divided in their views on the adoption of synths by Hefner (how influential did it in fact turn out to be, when synths and 80s sounds made a comeback at the end of the decade? We’ll never know, but it’s an intriguing thought), and somehow, for whatever reason, the band didn’t survive. I always felt this was unjust as it was a consistently strong collection of songs, with many of Darren Hayman’s most affecting lyrics, and a really lovely blend of instrumentation with Jack’s steel guitar and Amelia Fletcher’s guest vocals thrown in here and there. Ultimately, this is a record that deserved a better reception, and deserves to be remembered more fondly, than has been the case.

51    The White Stripes – Elephant     (2003)
The definitive White Stripes album? I think so: its three predecessors were even more lo-fi, but also frankly weren’t as consistently good in the songwriting department – this album succeeds as a run of genuinely excellent songs. Jack White said at the time that the duo had probably achieved as much with this record as was possible with such a limited line-up, and implied the band would split up. Further albums followed, but they largely offered diminishing returns, and White’s side-projects generally proved more interesting as the decade wore on. I now can’t think of Meg White’s swirlly red and white bass drum skin without having a yen for Campino sweets. Which you can’t get in the UK any more. Annoying.

Top 100 albums: 70-61

70    Super Furry Animals  – Mwng    (2000)
This was the Super Furries’ last project before they got their hands on a bigger recording budget. The results, 2001’s Rings Around the World, was lovely in places and produced some great singles, but overall lacked focus. Mwng in fact was the superior record, with lo-fi and folk-ish arrangements a bit reminiscent of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, and the band’s usual knack for a tune. I’ve no idea whether the lyrics were any good or not, but it really doesn’t matter.

69    Gossip     – Standing in the Way of Control    (2006)
Did I ever tell you about the time I saved the Ladyfest Tour 2001 from disaster? Oh, I did? Well, the bit of the story I often miss out is that I still didn’t get to see the Gossip that evening – indeed, it wasn’t until early 2007 that I finally saw them live, in a much bigger venue, after the success of their Standing in the Way of Control album. The band had been on quite a journey since then, moving on from shouty punky garage to something more funky and more soulful – whether you prefer the earlier or later Gossip is a matter of taste, but I’m with the latter. The biggest shift seems to have arisen from a decent drummer joining the line-up… Beth Ditto is prone to making ‘statements’ that tend not to need making, and the follow-up album was something of a re-tread, but never mind – it was still great to see the band getting some well-deserved and long-awaited recognition with this record.

68    Calexico – Carried to Dust    (2008)
Calexico’s first album, hot Rail, came out in 2000 and since then they have carved a pretty recognisable niche for themselves, mixing country music with Tex-Mex and mariachi stylings. It’s almost a shame their sound is so distinctive, as it is easy to overlook just how good the songwriting is too. Each album seems to have seen them grow in confidence, and pretty much any of them would sit credibly on this list. Carried to Dust is the most recent record, and therefore probably the best refinement yet of their sound; it was a characteristically long record, and a return to the dusty western sounds after a slightly heavier and more rock-driven outing with 2006’s Garden Ruin. Much as it would be nice to see them taking further interesting detours, we’d have no cause for complaint if Calexico stick around and produce a few more records along similar lines – they’re pretty much guaranteed to be excellent.

67    Laura Veirs – Saltbreakers    (2007)
I should probably own more Laura Veirs albums than I do, but at least this situation has the virtue of making it an easy choice over which to include on the list. I’m not sure I’d use the words ‘pretty’ and ‘compelling’ to describe the same record very often, but it’s a combination of adjectives that fits well here. Veirs perhaps started out in acoustic, slightly roots-y territory, but established a more rounded sound with this record, which is consistently lovely and well-written. A follow-up is on the way for 2010, and I’m looking forward to it.

66    The Raveonettes – Pretty In Black    (2005)
You only really need one Raveonettes album in your collection, and it should probably be this one. All their songs, apparently come in under two and a half minutes, and all are in the same key. If this sounds limiting, it kind of is; but it doesn’t alter the basics: top ’50s tunes, twangy guitars, tons of reverb and girl harmonies. Can’t go wrong. Until they added sheets of distortion on top of the same formula for 2007’s disastrous Lust Lust Lust, but like I said – you only need the one Raveonettes album.

65    The Frightened Prisoners of the Kraken – Man Car Plane    (2001)
The first time I met MJ Hibbett he was playing a gig in the Heaton Chapel area of Stockport, supporting this band – who were just superb. But also very hard to describe. They had the sort of northern clubland humour that underpinned Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, but tied to something a lot seedier. They had a conventional band line-up, plus horns, and the songs were often built around analogue synth riffs. Utterly tremendous, and genuinely unique – I remember playing opening song Turquoise Hope On A Liquid Splendid (sic) on my student radio show, and someone took the trouble to email in to comment on my ‘strange’ taste in music. The songs were occasionally surreal, often funny and above all, I think, wry. Actually, this is deeply frustrating – I’m not sure any of that even gets close to describing them. Wonderful though a follow-up album would be, it has long seemed unlikely: from what I can gather, one of the band members died some time early in the decade, and there was a big family-related falling-out between two of the brothers in the band, one of whom was the singer. Latest reports were that some bridges have been mended and the band may get going again… I do hope so.

64    Blue Roses – Blue Roses    (2009)
I normally find acoustic singer-songwriters interesting only up to a point: there’s only so much strumming or picking I can take before I lose interest, however pretty. This album, the debut from Laura Groves, stands out, however: not only are the tunes more ambitious than is often the case on records of this type, but the instrumentation is layered up in captivating and powerful arrangements. The overall effect is quite compelling: while some singers seem to give it a go because they can as much as anything else, Groves evidently knows very clearly what she’s doing and why. An arresting record by any standards, and all the more remarkable for a debut.

63    Elvis Costello and the Imposters – The Delivery Man    (2004)
This is a really excellent record that seemed under threat of being defeated by the weird and confusing PR that surrounded it. As the first album credited to Costello with the Imposters (= the Attractions with a different bassist), it invited a lot of comparisons to the back catalogue; its recording in the American South and pedal steel trappings apparently put it in Almost Blue territory. Unless you actually listened to it, in which case the dense and noisy playing of Blood and Chocolate or Brutal Youth seemed a much better comparison point; on tour meanwhile, it was material from My Aim Is True that seemed to be picked to sit alongside it. All very odd, but the album itself was top notch. Ostensibly it was a song cycle telling the story of a handful of characters, although this element rather seemed to fade, the final few songs not including it. Probably Costello’s best rock album of the decade, although both 2002’s When I Was Cruel and 2008’s Momofuku were welcome returns to singing noisy pop songs as well.

62    Black Box Recorder – The Facts of Life    (2000)
I had to check whether this came out in 2000 or 1999, but it just qualifies for this list. Luke Haynes has always struck me as not being as smart as he thinks he is; the line on Englishness he usually peddles was somewhat muted here, but re-emerged in this album’s deeply disappointing sequel Passionoia, and in his subsequent work. Another flaw of Passionoia was that it all sounded too cold, from the synthesised beats to Sarah Nixey’s overly-mannered vocals, yet it’s hard to pin down why it failed then but works so successfully on this record. Maybe it’s just that the tunes are better; maybe it’s the more successful lyrical territory of innocence slipping away, first kisses and romanticised criminality. It may or may not be the only Luke Haynes album you’ll ever need; it’s certainly the only one I’m interested in owning.

61    Steve Earle – Jerusalem    (2002)
Here was the intelligent musical response to 9/11, with Steve Earle trying to see all sides in the clash between America and Islam and largely succeeding. How far he had come from his earlier days as the ‘next Springsteen’, or later days in the grips of heroin addiction; this and its sequel, The Revolution Starts Now, will stand for years as collections of songs that mark out Earle as a great political songwriter, but also as fascinating documents of peculiar and troubling times. This album might come to look increasingly odd as it recedes into the past – I certainly hope it doesn’t come to look increasingly prescient – but it’s a great set of songs if you’re able to see beyond the date-stamping topicality.

Top 100 albums 80-71

80    The Futureheads – The Futureheads    (2004)
Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being a bit one-dimensional, provided it’s a good dimension. The Futureheads are a case in point: their angular guitar Gang of Four schtick doesn’t really stand much embellishment or development, but it’s enjoyable. At first they seemed a more edgy Franz Ferdinand (however lame that band now looks, one can’t help but think their ascent opened the way for some more interesting bands to come to prominence); latterly, Maximo Park seemed a more accessible poppy version of the Futureheads. Both comparisons are probably very unfair. But no matter: the Futureheads’ debut remains their essential record; 2006’s News and Tributes tenatively tried tempering the formula here and there, and was probably less consistently enjoyable as a result; 2008’s This Is Not The World went back to a full-blooded and ever-more-noisy attack. I’m not sure I need a fourth Futureheads album in my life, but I’ll always have a soft spot for their first.

79    Ryan Adams – Demolition    (2002)
I struggled for a long time to like Ryan Adams: he was a darling of the music press in the first half of the decade, but came across as a bit obnoxious and over-hyped. In fairness, I probably didn’t really get country music at the time he got rave reviews for his debut post-Whiskeytown album, Heartbreaker. Even so, I ultimately came to prefer this album to the more delicate Heartbreaker: it rocks harder, but it can also do the delicate stuff. And I can certainly now see why Adams’ aching songs of heartbreak and loss found such favour; he’s not really the saviour of country music or anything like that, but he probably deserved the acclaim he got more than I realised at the time.

78    Chris T-T – The 253    (2001)
Half-way through this decade, Chris T-T looked like establishing himself as one of the pre-eminent English singer-songwriters, but somehow after he ‘turned professional’ in 2003 it didn’t quite happen – which is not to say he hasn’t continued producing a lot of good stuff. His first few albums were low-fi indie, showcasing dry humour, whimsy, righteous outrage and strong political views. With 2005’s 9 Red Songs he produced a striking acoustic set of political songs, before in 2007 Capital took the politics into louder, angrier and more dense territory. That album was the third part of a ‘London Trilogy’ (though T-T had by this point moved to Brighton). My favourite of his albums, however, was the first leg of this: The 253 found T-T still in full indie mode, and contains many of his most charming songs such as The English Earth and Build A Bridge, Burn A Bridge. I remember playing those songs on student radio, when an American listener happened to have chanced on the station via the internet; he was very taken with them, but had to email in several times to discover the name of the artist because either my accent or my diction was unfathomable to him. Overall, though, I feared at one point that T-T’s moment might have passed, with a thin crowd at his Luminaire show to promote Capital being a bit of a surprise and his more strident political views being a bit hard to stomach (for me, anyway). But he’s got two or three new albums due out in 2010, and the snippets I’ve heard live recently show Chris is still writing high-quality, surprising songs that demand your attention. I hope they bring him the recognition that he’s long deserved.

77    Old Crow Medicine Show – Big Iron World    (2006)
A bluegrass sextet with true punk spirit. I encountered them supporting Gillian Welch and David Rawlings (with the latter, an early champion and producer, performing in the line-up) in Manchester in 2004, and I was due to see them again on July 21st 2005, when the failed terror attacks in London succeeded in disrupting the transport system enough to thwart me. I finally saw them again in 2008, when, standing in a line along the stage and holding acoustic instruments, they drove the crowd at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire into an appreciative frenzy – amazing stuff. The music is delivered raw and uncompromising: it’s about hedonism, excess, narcotics and gambling as much as it’s about the more conventional Americana subject matter of travelling across the plains, being an honest working man and all that. You could credibly start with any of their records, but after a perhaps slightly too homely-sounding debut, this was the first to get the kick into the sound that they manage to put into their live performances.

76    Magnet – On Your Side    (2003)
A rich singer-songwriter record from Even Johansen, under his admittedly rather rubbish Magnet alias. I bought this in December and associate it with train journeys across cold winter landscapes bathed in low yellow sunlight. It’s shot through with yearning and melancholy, and verges on the soaring at times – am I alone in detecting a slight similarity between his voice and Matt Bellamy’s? Yet the follow-up album, 2005’s The Tourniquet, was uninteresting and overblown and I’ve not heard of Johansen since. Pity.

75    Beirut – Gulag Orkestar    (2006)
Classic example of a band where I only like one album: after this, Beirut went down a more conventional-sounding route, succumbing to the lure of synths and drum machines as the decade drew to a close in a maelstrom of 80s revivalism. Also at the end of he decade, Mumford and Sons ripped off the sound of this album shamelessly: it’s a curious blend of eastern European folk melodies, with lots of trumpets and backing vocals. It really sounds like nothing else on this list; admittedly the trademark sound of the ensemble is so strong that the songs start to sound pretty similar, but over one album that doesn’t matter too much.

74    The Knife – Silent Shout    (2006)
A rare bit of electronica for this list. Somehow this seems to have a warmth and a drama that other electronic music lacks – perhaps it’s the vocals somehow.

73    Radiohead – Kid A    (2000)
Ah, Kid A – the point after which Radiohead’s musical development stopped taking radical strides. It’s ironic that, having spent so long trying to come up with a sequel to OK Computer that sounded nothing like it, that Radiohead have essentially been mining the same musical seam ever since, to mixed effect. I seem to be in a minority in thinking Hail to the Thief was, bar a few higlights, rather poor; and Amnesiac was self-indulgent toss in its second half – which rather diminishes Kid A, given their origins at the same sessions. That said, I also seem to be alone in thinking Knives Out is one of the best things Radiohead ever did. Anyway – In Rainbows eventually restored my faith in the band after an early-decade wobble, but Kid A remains as the grandaddy of them all. For all its musical inventiveness, however, there’s no escaping the limited quality of some of the songwriting, which is probably why I’ve got it lower on my list than a lot of other compilers no doubt will.

72    Hot Chip – The Warning     (2006)
I’ve not seen Hot Chip play live since 2002: at the time they were still a Cambridge student band, featured Dan Paton on drums and were playing the now long-closed Boat Race. Ironically the current line-up features two alumni of my old Cambridge college rather than Dan’s, who I never knew at the time although I remember them working the bar one evening and playing some great funk records while they did. Hot Chip’s story really got interesting after all of that however, as they emerged as a disco/electro band that was instrumental in making that type of music fashionable again, and that still had the warmth of ‘proper’ instruments and DIY recording to stop the records sounding clinical and sterile. Third album Made in the Dark was over-long, but at its best when venturing into soul and chillout territory; The Warning stands as probably their most consistent album overall to date, but there’s undoubtedly much more to come from this band over the coming years.

71 Ron Sexsmith – Retriever    (2004)
I’d heard of Sexsmith before, but first heard him properly when this album was played on loop between bands at a John Prine gig at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in late 2005 – still less than a year after I’d moved to London and the first time I’d ever been there, I think. I was really struck by the song Imaginary Friends, which seemed to do a Morrissey-esque miserablism with a country edge, like a cross between Moz and Paul Burch. I succeeded in googling it the following day, and acquired this album soon after. Sexsmith has been championed by Elvis Costello, and as a songwriter is not too far off; but the thing that really marks the two out is that while Costello takes pains never to repeat himself, Sexsmith tends to make the same record over and over again. That is, brilliant songs, perhaps slightly – but only slightly – too smoothly produced, by Mitchell Froom in this case. 2006’s Time Being was also lovely, but a carbon copy of Retriever. Still – you need a Ron Sexsmith record in your collection, and you could do a lot worse than make it this one.