grumpy old man critiques list of top 100 "indie rock" albums of the 2000s

Plano, TX

While I’m sitting here waiting for 2019 to emerge from the womb and trying to figure out if anyone actually liked the song I posted last night, I’ve decided to pore through a list that Google thought I would enjoy: Treble Zine’s Top 100 Indie Rock Albums of the 2000s. I love lists, and 2000s* indie rock is pretty much my bailiwick, so this should be fun, right?

The whole list is here, but rather than go through it album by album, I’m just going to comment on each section of ten (which is how they’re organized on the Treble site) and offer up some albums I think were mistakenly omitted at the end. Let’s do it real time, so I can be surprised by their #1.

91-100

Lesser albums by The Strokes (Room on Fire), Phoenix (It’s Never Been Like That), and LCD Soundsystem (self-titled) show up at the bottom of the list, leading me to suspect we’ll be seeing these bands later on. Don’t really see Room on Fire as a top 100; The Strokes didn’t really live up to the hype in my opinion. Low’s Drums and Guns is on the list which is…odd. Let me check. OK, this list came out in 2017, so Double Negative wasn’t out yet, so Drums and Guns makes sense. Nice to see Neko Case (Fox Confessor Brings The Flood) and Belle and Sebastian (The Life Pursuit) get a nod, but since those are among their strongest works, I doubt we’ll be seeing them again.

81-90

Matador Records, represent! Cat Power’s You Are Free, Yo La Tengo’s I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass and Interpol’s Antics show up here. Kudos for the Interpol record, as I think it was an improvement on their debut (although I’m probably in the minority). Crystal Castles’ debut is in this section, but thinking about them just makes me feel skeevy for what Alice Glass went through. Bright Eyes I’m Wide Awake/It’s Morning is rated just about right. I’m not a huge fan, but it’s kind of hard to knock Conor Obert’s influence.

71-80

Some of the big ones from my concert going experiences finally arrive. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs Fever To Tell and Ted Leo + Pharmacists’ The Tyranny of Distance are in about the right place. MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular, on the other hand, is way too low. History will not look kindly on that rating, or it wouldn’t, if history cared about lists like this.

61-70

Hey! Neko Case’s Blacklisted made it here, so she got a couple on the list at least. A lot of “OK, I guess, maybe” records here: Beruit’s Gulag Orkestar, The Decemberists’ The Crane Wife, and Titus Andronicus’ The Airing of Grievances are tough to argue with, but I’m not really feeling it. I’m hoping that Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor is somewhere a little higher on the list as I like both the music and the ambition better than their debut. Sonic Youth’s Murray Street, the second SY record on the list, feels way too high to me. Their best work was in the 90s in my opinion.

51-60

We’re getting into “no respectable list would leave these off” territory, which isn’t as much fun. Spoon’s Girls Can Tell isn’t my favorite of theirs, but it’s fine. Sleater-Kinney’s All Hands On The Bad One is right where it should be. TV on the Radio’s Dear Science might be a little lower than it ought to be, but let’s see the rest of the list before judging. Elliott Smith’s Figure 8 was going to be somewhere, just a matter of where, right?

41-50

Top half of the list! Sigur Ros’ () is at #50, which is too low in my book, but I can see that one being wildly divisive. We get Of Montreal (Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?), The Shins (Chutes Too Narrow), and The Killers (Hot Fuss) back to back to back, which is a pretty strong set, even if I liked Wincing The Night Away better. Death Cab For Cutie’s Plans clocks in here and there really had to be some Death Cab, didn’t there? A little surprised to see …And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead’s Source Codes and Tags this high up the list, but I’ll take it.

31-40

Everything from here on up should be borderline-classic, and they do pretty will with this segment. Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion absolutely belongs and Spoon’s Kill The Moonlight is exactly right for Spoon’s best record. You can’t have any indie cred at all if you don’t list Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven, so that box is ticked. The New Pornographers’ Twin Cinema is here, and it’s definitely top 40 material, but the problem with the NewPos is that damned near everything they did is just as worthy.

21-30

Twee is the order of the day in this segment. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago and The Postal Service’s Give Up are like bookends for the era (Grizzly Bear, The National, and Fleet Foxes are in this section as well). TV On The Radio’s Return To Cookie Mountain is a classic, so yes, it’s rated about right, but I’m unconvinced of the Arctic Monkey’s debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I know it was the hype record, but their recent stuff is miles better in my opinion.

11-20

Top 20 means pretty much album-of-the-year cred at this level….and I’m not on board with most of what’s here. Sure, Phoenix’ Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix rules the airwaves, so that’s fine. But, Death Cab’s Transatlanticism and Spoon’s Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga aren’t their best work and I don’t see them as anywhere near top 20 material. The top 2 here are Vampire Weekend’s self-titled debut and The Strokes’ Is This It and…nah man, I’ll pass. Maybe on the bottom half of the list, but they’re both essentially one-trick ponies who wore out their welcome pretty fast.

10-1

Ok, let’s start with the positives: Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm , Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica, Sufjan Stevens’ Come On Feel The Illinoise, and The Arcade Fire’s Funeral are all solid, top ten choices. There are a couple of impressive, idiosyncratic choices here as well. Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods and Fugazi’s The Argument are albums I loved and didn’t expect to see here. Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was inevitable, and I can’t argue with it. But this section is bookended by Franz Ferdinand at 10 and Interpol’s Turn On The Bright Lights at #1. Franz Ferdinand ‘s debut was a solid, if monochromatic, record that got big due to a ton of payola, and while I like the Interpol record, is it the best album of the first 18 years of the millennium? Not even close, in my opinion. It’s not even Interpol’s best record.

There are a ton of records that I could nominate as worthy of top 100 recognition, but I’m going to stick with what I think were particularly egregious omissions.

Old World Underground (Where Are You Now?) by Metric-This Montreal outfit is the best of the Broken Social Scene offshoots, and they’re a lot more fun than anything BSS ever made. The debut is the new wave revival you never knew you needed. Should be in the 60-70 range.

Hearts of Oak by Ted Leo + Pharmacists-I’m a biased Ted Leo fanboy, so I can’t be objective, but I feel like this is The One for Ted Leo fans. Should be in the 30-40 range.

Stellastarr* by Stellastar*-This should be a favorite of everyone who loved late-era Talking Heads. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s smart, and the songwriting is, um, stellar. Sorry about that. Should be in the 50-60 range.

Employment by The Kaiser Chiefs-It feels weird to have other buzz bands like The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand on the list, but nothing by The Kaiser Chiefs. If you like big choruses, this is THE album for you. Great live show, too. Should be in the 70-80 range.

The Witching Hour by Ladytron-Synthwave before synthwave was popular. “Destroy Everything You Touch” was one of the best singles of the decade, not that anyone asked me. Should be in the 40-50 range.

We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed by Los Campesinos! - The tweexcore Arcade Fire, with a gazillion times more energy. Gazing at your navel has never been more fun. Some folks prefer Come On Now, Youngster, and fair game to them, but this is my commentary. Should be in the 60-70 range.

Electric Version and Challengers by The New Pornographers - for reasons given above.

LP by Ambulance, LTD-An absolutely flawless compendium of guitar-based soft rock, power pop, neopsychedelia, and everything things a band can do with guitar based indie rock. Every song is great. My favorite album of the millennium so far. Should be in the 1-5 range.

That’s about it. Anything I’m missing?

-RK

* 2000s indie rock is way better than the music from my high school years, or, more accurately, I enjoy it more. I reckon this makes me a generational traitor or something, but the ears want what they want.