The new year is almost here, and with it comes a maelstrom of “End of the Year Lists.” Here on Ex-Spectator, I’ll be rolling out a few “End of the Year”/”End of the Decade” lists. Today’s list: The Best Overlooked Albums of the Aughts.
A while back I started an ongoing feature called “Overlooked in the Aughts,” which covered some of the most underrated albums of the past decade. But, with the new decade fast approaching, I no longer have the time to cover every underappreciated record with the depth of previous posts. So, instead, I’ve gathered a list of 50 of the best albums of the past decade that I felt were overlooked and underrated. Obviously, there are countless other great albums that have been passed over during the past 10 years, but these 50 struck a particular chord with me. (The few records that I’ve previously written about have links to those original posts.) Enjoy the little musical trip from 2000 to today:
Karate’s discography is a lesson in musical evolution, and on Unsolved the Boston band hit their mix of post-hardcore, slowcore and down-tempo jazz just right.
These Kansans had been pigeonholed as Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral knockoffs until the double dose of their 2001 album Low Level Owl. The group took their emo roots and fused it with an experimental ambience for a rapturous sound.
Though many critics ignored Gomez after their ’98 debut, Bring It On, their third album offered an excellent blend of their signature feel-good, classic rock and a slight experimentation with electronics.
On his solo debut, the Rhode Island rapper straddled the line between underground hip-hop and loquacious slam poetry for an album as off-the-cuff as it is catchy.
As The Rapture received accolades for their art-punk sound, this D.C. group (not so) quietly operated in the shadows of the “dance punk movement” to make a bold and arresting post-punk record.
After Sunny Day Real Estate broke up for a second time, three of the band’s original members regrouped for a record so steeped in prog you’d swear it came out three decades before.
With the sharpest ear for pop hooks and a baleful of smart lyrics, it’s still a wonder why The Format’s Interventions & Lullabies never became the kind of hit some of their emo peers experienced with lesser albums.
A hardworking Memphis band that’s finally getting their due, Lucero hit a great mark with That Much Further West, an album that features a deadly and heartfelt combination of punk, country, emo and a tinge of that good ole’ Southern rock twang.
This Japanese noise act can create music abrasive enough to scare just about anyone, but on Cell-Scape Melt-Banana managed to craft a collection of songs that have the hardest noise-punk punch and sound good to the pop ear to boot.
The British band’s debut is packed with angelic rock tunes that are simply epic in their scope.
Before the press got wind of this charming chamber-pop group, matt pond PA released Emblems, a collection of intimate indie-rock tunes with a few spellbinding tales.
In 2004, Hrishikesh Hirway took glitchy electronica and fused it with lo-fi indie folk for an excellent set of emotionally gravitating tunes.*
Most write-ups on VHS or Beta in ’04 focused on how singer Craig Pfunder sounds eerily like The Cure’s Robert Smith. Unfortunately, too many writers seem to miss out on the band’s catchy post-disco sound that made Night On Fire such a surprise.
Packed with an ingenious mix of classic rock, indie song craft and jam-rock leanings, Apollo Sunshine’s self-titled record mixed genuine fun and fever-drenched rock freakouts.
Once dreamt up in the bedroom of David Terry, Aqueduct’s I Sold Gold culled together intimate indie pop, feel-good pop rock and fist-pumping rawk music for one enjoyable record.
After RCA dropped Cave In, the band regrouped for a record that culled together the boisterous hardcore punk of their first couple of years with an agile take on metal, thrifty prog dynamics and one pulverizing pop hook after another.*
Jacksonville’s Chad Matheny has been toiling away insatiably at making the kind of off-beat music that would make Calvin Johnson proud. On Central Hug, Matheny balanced sharp and effusive songwriting with a range of anti-folk sounds.*
Though not as strong as most of the albums in Mark Kozelek’s career, the Modest Mouse cover album delivers a handful of emotionally gravitating tunes in a style only Kozelek can produce.
Team Sleep is an album created by one of the oddest supergroups of the decade. With Chino Moreno (Deftones), Zach Hill (Hella), Rob Crow (Pinback), Mary Timony and a host of other talented musicians, Team Sleep managed to balance the best of the musical mileage of each of its contributors for a solid debut.
A concise mix of elements in everyone’s favorite indie rock bands, Duplomacy made sure to imprint their voice on every track on All These Long Drives and ended up with an enjoyable trek down indie-rock lane.
With Putting The Days To Bed, John Roderick evaded so many singer-songwriter clichés to create a lyrically thoughtful and conspicuously well-honed rock record.
I find it hard to not be completely charmed by the feel-good moments that make Maritime’s sophomore album. We, The Vehicles is pop perfection, and each song seems to glide by with the kind of skill and ease of the best pop singles.*
Many a blog pushed Oh No! Oh My! towards a near-viral state back in’06, but many failed to write about the band when they released their self-titled debut. Packed with sweet, sincere pop-rock tunes, Oh No! Oh My! is one album that has “repeated listenings” stamped all over it.*
Philadelphia’s The PoPo dropped an album that combined noisy-punk and hip-hop rhyme skillz while managing to address issues of alienation and identity in Western culture and sound intelligent at the same time.
The Austin band was hit by the “Pitchfork effect” when they released their debut (and sole) album, Movie Monster. Tough a negative review on Pitchfork can turn away countless listeners, those who closed their ears missed an album that’s smart, irresistible and hard to turn off.
New York trio +/- (or Plus/Minus) hit their stride on Let’s Build A Fire, a self-assured album that showed a band unafraid to show off their skill and intelligent enough to make their sweet-natured songwriting do the work.
Mixing minimalist post-punk with aspects of krautrock hypnosis, funk dancebreaks, hip-hop cadences and twee-like imagination, Reflector is the kind of album that’s hard to get out of your head and enjoyable all the while.*
Dartz! is just one of many brilliant U.K. bands that never experience the kind of success in America that they should. This Is My Ship only offers a more confusing query: When a band can put together such vibrant dance-punk akin to Q And Not U and The Dismemberment Plan, why aren’t they a success in the U.S.?
Dillinger’s Ire Works suffered the fate of poor timing: It was released at the very end of ’07, and many critics missed it completely. Because of that, one of the most adventurous and accessible metalcore albums in years never reached the kind of wide audience that would have enjoyed the listen.
Think political post-punk is passé? Well, Baltimore trio Double Dagger re-injected discourse into “political punk” on Ragged Rubble and the results were as boisterous as the album is ear shattering.
L.A. duo Gowns carefully melded noisy aesthetics with mesmerizing ambience for a record you need to pay close attention to in order to catch every second of its beauty.
In ’07, an Australian youngster combined club-style techno and morphed in with ‘50s doo-wop themes of child-like longing for a significant other and having fun for a collection of pop songs that screams summer bliss no matter what day of they year it is.
Buried under waves of feedback is the great garage rock of Unbeast The Leash, a lo-fi treat that could fill the need for any Strokes’ fan looking for an Is This It-type fix.
On Resurgam, Alias focused on creating an (almost entirely) instrumental, hip-hop influenced electronic album. He succeeded at making an album more moving than many of his underground hip-hop contemporaries’ records.
Unless you write for Wire (the magazine, not the TV show), chances are you missed The Bug’s London Zoo, a haunting experience that took dubstep and infused it with a modern paranoia and plenty of patwa pathos.
Chad VanGaalen has been making plenty of interesting sounds on the countless instruments he’s invented over the decade. On Soft Airplane, VanGaalen balanced his musical ingenuity with his oft-overshadowed songwriting skills for a simply mesmerizing album.
Hip-hop, as ambiguous a term as it may be, cannot contain D.C.’s Food For Animals. On their debut, the trio mash up glitch-prone electronic beats with old school-flavored rhyme schemes to produce an album that sounds as “dangerous” as Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions did back in the day.*
The Brooklyn/Portland, Oregon group made a joyous, campfire-friendly folk album that seemed poised to make just about every acoustic-guitar carrying troubadour jealous.
After toiling around in L.A.’s punk scene for years, The Mae Shi rebooted for a concept album about the end of the world. Catchy and caustic, HLLLYH is awe inducing in its scope and execution.
Matching operatic singing, quick keyboard work and off-kilter drumming, Philadelphia’s Pattern Is Movement put together a skilled and uplifting album so markedly different that it helped listeners remember what “alternative” means.
Baltimore quartet Wilderness seem poised to take the crown fellow musical citizens Lungfish held onto for years, as (k)no(w)here featured a vibrant selection of songs with the kind of spirituality, kinetic post-punk composition and intense energy that only a band like Lungfish had previously been able to muster.
If fun, childlike music and glitchy electronics is not your thing, stay far away from Super Animal Brothers III. Without ever taking themselves too seriously, Ear Pwr put together a record so fun you’ll forget any voice telling you not to dance and go wild.
After a five-year absence, the St. Paul hip-hop duo returned with By The Throat, a dark record that abandoned the battle-rhyme focus of their earlier work for another great Rhymesayers-approved album.
Lincoln, Nebraska’s UUVVWWZ are a band to keep an eye (and ear) out for. Their 2009 self-titled effort mixed up mathy instrumentation, nascent post-punk and inventive songwriting for a heady, caustic sound.
*[FULL DISCLOSURE: The album descriptions with asterisks were done by bands or artists - or in one case, a member of a band - with whom I've had the pleasure of putting on concerts with. In a few cases, I befriended members of the bands listed: In those cases, I had already discovered and adored the albums included on this list, and my contact with those individuals did not affect the infatuation I had with those particular albums when I first discovered them.]