The 2000s were a fascinating decade in music history. Much of the previous decade’s work in hip hop and indie rock continued to develop; meanwhile, the advent of streaming gave artists more control over their music than ever before. These top albums were influential across the board, laying the groundwork for music as we know it today.
1. Self-Titled Album — Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend released its first album in January 2008. They had spent an entire year advertising the forthcoming album online, generating wild anticipation from fans. It lived up to the hype, showcasing a stellar combination of musical influences.
2. Unearthed — Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash passed away in 2003 at the age of 71; it seems odd that he would have a top album released that decade. In fact, Unearthed was released two months after his death. It featured many of his classic songs that he had recorded for earlier albums. The last part of the album was a variety of gospel songs that he had come to love during his childhood.
3. Attack & Release — The Black Keys
The Black Keys’ fifth album, Attack & Release, dropped in 2008. It was a marked transition away from their previous ones, which had emphasized a less-polished sound. It was highly successful and praised by both fans and critics. It was certified gold in both the US and the UK, with the track I Got Mine receiving a nod on Rolling Stone’s list of Best Songs of the 2000s.
4. Come Away With Me — Norah Jones
Norah Jones’ debut album, Come Away With Me, was released in 2002. It immediately made waves thanks to her silky vocals and gentle piano accompaniment, despite the fact that jazz wasn’t necessarily a popular genre at the time. Emerging into an industry drenched with garage rock and emo rock, it stood out specifically because of its subtlety. She was immediately crowned Queen of Jazz in the 21st century.
5. In Rainbows — Radiohead
Radiohead attracted attention with the 2007 album In Rainbows, not just for its quality but also for being one of the first ones to be self-released via online streaming. This allowed the band members to choose their own methods of promoting and controlling its release. It was a widely-praised move and played a significant role in moving music marketing into the digital era.
6. Love And Theft — Bob Dylan
It seems amazing to reflect on Bob Dylan’s extraordinarily long career, which was still going strong in the 2000s. Love And Theft, released in 2001, was the singer’s 31st studio album. Though it featured new sounds in his music, it didn’t flag in quality, hitting number five on the Billboard Top 200. It also won Best Contemporary Folk Album at the Grammy Award and has been called one of his greatest albums.
7. Mass Romantic — The New Pornographers
The New Pornographers’ debut album Mass Romantic, released in 2000, could be regarded as a flop on the charts. It was the budding internet bthat saved it, leading to a sold-out debut tour. Though it didn’t rank on popular music charts, online music review websites such as Metacritic gave it high ratings. This led to a rapid-fire spread in popularity, and it would go on to win a Juno Award for Best Alternative Album.
8. The College Dropout — Kanye West
Kanye West released his debut album, The College Dropout, in 2004. It was the fruit of four arduous years of recording, during which time he struggled to get his solo career off the ground. It was an instant success, peaking at number two on the charts. It was nominated for two Grammy Awards and won one; it also received four platinum certifications for its high sales.
9. Silent Shout — The Knife
Silent Shout is a creepy title, and it was perfect for the vibe of The Knife’s 2006 album. It featured pitch manipulation to create an eerie effect. Aside from that, the music was a hypnotic combination of synth-pop and techno that was a hit with fans and music critics alike. Several publications pronounced it the best album of 2006. It also earned praise for its unique musical elements and genre-shaping composition.
10. Kill The Moonlight — Spoon
Spoon released Kill The Moonlight in 2002, earning instant notice for the one-of-a-kind sound elements that baffled critics and fans alike. It features a homemade, bare-bones musical style and heavy percussion. It was praised as the greatest album the band had ever recorded, with critics pointing out the obvious influences from The Rolling Stones and Elvis Costello.
11. Transatlanticism — Death Cab For Cutie
Death Cab For Cutie released Transatlanticism in November 2003. It is a concept album, telling the story of a long-distance relationship. Critics were impressed by the revolutionary use of sound to convey the story and emotions of the characters. It was extremely successful, especially after the band’s previous success. It was composed as a cohesive storyline, with each song connecting to the next.
12. For Emma, Forever Ago — Bon Iver
For Emma, Forever Ago was self-released by indie folk band Bon Iver in 2007. The album was the fruit of frontman Justin Vernon’s time living in a forest cabin while recovering from a serious liver infection. The period was extremely formative for him, and this channeled into his music. Critics praised it for its folk-infused melodies that drew on classical music and brass arrangements.
13. Youth & Young Manhood — Kings of Leon
Kings Of Leon released their debut album, Youth & Young Manhood, in 2003. It was a testament to the post-punk revival of the early 2000s, with critics praising its use of southern garage rock. Interestingly, it didn’t sell well in the US, which didn’t deter music critics; Rolling Stone named it the 10th-best album of the year. It featured several singles that became widely known, however, including Holy Roller Novocaine.
14. Raising Sand — Robert Plant And Alison Krauss
It is fascinating that, in a decade of garage rock and emo music, a country rock album would garner so much attention. Robert Plant and Alison Krauss collaborated on Raising Sand in 2007. It was an instant and widespread success, winning Album of The Year at both the Grammy Awards and the Americana Music Awards. It won a host of other Grammy Awards and received widespread praise for the band’s seamless blending of musical genres.
15. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — Wilco
Wilco’s fourth studio album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, initially defied critics’ categorization efforts when it was released in 2001. It was highly experimental, moving away from the band’s older sounds. It has been alternately classified as indie rock and art rock. It was widely considered one of the best albums the band had ever released as well as one of the defining albums of music in the 2000s.
16. Everything All The Time — Band of Horses
Band Of Horses’ 2006 release Everything All The Time was their official debut album. It mostly featured rerecordings of songs released on their earlier EP. Though it largely flew under the radar at the time of its release, it was praised by music critics and has been included on retrospective lists of noteworthy albums of the decade.
17. The Life Pursuit — Belle & Sebastian
Scottish indie rock duo Belle & Sebastian had been active throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, but it wasn’t until their seventh studio album, The Life Pursuit, that they gained widespread attention. It was released in 2006 and was an immediate hit in both the UK and the US, peaking at number 65 on the Billboard Top 200. It also featured several highly popular singles, including Funny Little Frog.
18. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out — Yo La Tengo
Indie rock band Yo La Tengo had produced eight albums before releasing And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out in 2000. But it was their first work to become widely commercially successful, hitting the Billboard 200 and making great sales in the US. It was highly experimental, featuring the 17-minute track Night Falls On Hoboken. It was called their most mature album, proving that they had serious staying power.
19. One Beat — Sleater-Kinney
Sleater-Kinney’s 2002 release One Beat was marked by political commentary and emotional, swelling instrumentals. It placed at number 107 on the Billboard 200, a particularly remarkable accomplishment for an independent album. Its most overt political commentary came on the track Far Away, which strongly criticized then-President George W. Bush’s actions in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
20. Kid A — Radiohead
Radiohead’s fourth studio album, Kid A, was released in 2000. It was widely considered the band’s best work up until that point, winning a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album of The Year. Some fans claimed that it was a sign that they were “selling out” in favor of a more mainstream sound. These criticisms didn’t seem to hurt the album’s overall reception, and it is frequently named one of the best of the decade.
21. Parachutes — Coldplay
Coldplay was one of the most popular and well-known bands of the 2000s, and it all started with the release of their debut album, Parachutes, in 2000. In the UK, it reached number one on the charts; in the US, it peaked at number 51 and received two platinum certifications. It is one of the best-selling albums of all time.
22. Under Construction — Missy Elliott
Missy Elliott was one of the most famous musicians of the 1990s, and she didn’t miss a beat with the turn of the new century. Her album Under Construction was released in 2002, peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 200. It would go on to win Album of The Year and Best Rap Album at the Grammy Awards.
23. Only By The Night — Kings of Leon
Kings Of Leon were prolific throughout the 2000s, releasing four albums between 2003 and 2008. Their fourth one, Only By The Night, was one of their most successful, particularly the singles Sex On Fire and Use Somebody. The latter was particularly successful, winning Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song, Record of The Year, and Best Performance by a Duo.
24. American Idiot — Green Day
Green Day was undoubtedly one of the defining musical groups of the 2000s. Few albums exemplify the era’s zeitgeist better than their 2004 release, American Idiot. While popular, it was hotly criticized by some groups, particularly for the eponymous track. Released in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the start of the Iraq War, the song is a no-holds-barred criticism of American nationalism and mindless media consumption.
25. Elephant — The White Stripes
It’s hard to choose the best album from The White Stripes, who were prolific throughout the 2000s. However, many critics name 2003’s Elephant as the duo’s best work, calling it highly influential in the development of garage rock throughout the decade. It won Best Alternative Music Album at the Grammy Awards.
26. Sound of Silver — LCD Soundsystem
LCD Soundsystem released Sound Of Silver in 2007, their second studio album. It was a great success, earning a nomination for Best Electronic Dance Album at the Grammy Awards. Before its official release, the band made it available to stream from their MySpace page, as many artists did during the birth of the streaming era.
27. Ys — Joanna Newsom
Ys is an interesting contender in the music of the 2000s, a decade that was rife with electronica, indie pop, and garage rock. It was a unique blend of folk and indie pop, featuring five songs that were between seven and 17 minutes long. It has been praised as her greatest work and a defining album for the development of indie folk in the 2000s and 2010s.
28. Kala — M.I.A.
Hip hop artist M.I.A. struck a chord with her 2007 album Kala. It drew on collaboration with musical artists and their unique styles from around the world and discussed issues facing people in the Third World, including poverty and immigration. She said that it was made in honor of her mother and other women like her.
29. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots — The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips went in a new direction with their 10th album, released in 2002. Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots was an experiment in electronica and psychedelic rock, with lyrics that are heavily centered on social and philosophical issues such as pacifism and mortality. The songs are presented as a story following a character named Yoshimi.
30. Time (The Revelator) — Gillian Welch
Gillian Welch’s 2001 album Time (The Revelator) was a musical experiment for the singer, striking out into the world of alternative country. Though it didn’t win any awards, it was nominated for four Grammy Awards. Critics praised it for its musical experimentation; it is widely considered some of her best works.
31. Illinois — Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens released Illinois, a concept album in the vein of his earlier one, Michigan. It revolves around people, places, and events that are unique to the US state of Illinois. But it was the lyrical and melodic complexity that made it so popular, earning him praise for his inroads in the genre of indie rock.
32. Hail to The Thief — Radiohead
Radiohead’s 2003 album Hail To The Thief was an early victim of internet piracy, though the event didn’t stop it from becoming extremely successful. Peaking at number one in the UK and number three in the US, it was a conscious experiment in moving to electronic music. The title and much of its theme were taken from social commentary on the War on Terror.
33. How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb — U2
One of U2’s most successful albums was 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb, which would be their last for several years. It was the result of intense and deliberate work, an effort that paid off; it peaked at number one in 30 countries, including the US. It also won an astounding total of eight Grammy Awards over two years.
34. Back to Black — Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse was considered one of the most talented and promising singers of the 2000s, and her talent was never on better display than on her 2006 album Back To Black. It is a perfect display of her signature neo-soul style, which blended elements of 1960s R&B with modern genres. The star-studded album won countless Grammy Awards, making her one of the most awarded singers of the century.
35. The Marshall Mathers LP — Eminem
Eminem’s album The Marshall Mathers LP, released in 2000, was highly controversial. The public was shocked by the violent and sometimes gruesome lyrics of his music. Nevertheless, critics praised it for its emotional depth, with lyrics that focused on themes of isolation, transformation, criticism, and satire.
36. Da Drought 3 — Lil Wayne
Da Drought 3 was Lil Wayne’s third mixtape in a self-released trilogy, which he posted in 2007 available for free download. Self-releasing on the internet was a fairly new concept at the time, but it didn’t stop the album from becoming wildly successful. Critics were impressed by the talent showcased by the lyrics, earning it a namecheck from Rolling Stone on its Best Albums of 2007 list.
37. FutureSex/LoveSounds — Justin Timberlake
After the breakup of *NSYNC in 2002, Justin Timberlake launched his solo career to great success. His second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds, was released in 2006. It caught the public’s attention thanks to its unique blend of electronica, techno, and trance music. It featured four number-one singles, an amazing achievement.
38. No Line on The Horizon — U2
No Line On The Horizon was released in 2009. It was U2’s first album in five years and featured a marked shift in sound, influenced by the band’s time spent in Morocco. Though its sales were low, their following tour broke records; critics praised it for its enthusiastic embrace of artistic embellishment, calling it a work that would mark the rest of the band’s time.
39. Get Rich or Die Tryin’ — 50 Cent
Rapper 50 Cent launched his career with his 2003 album Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ and it contained some of the most impactful songs of his career. It followed a struggling EP and multiple collaborations with other rappers and was a wild success; it climbed to the top of the Billboard charts and sold an astounding 872,000 copies in its first week.
40. Speakerboxxx/The Love Below — OutKast
OutKast’s 2003 album Speakerboxxx/The Love Below set out with an unusual style. It was set up as a double album featuring solo work from each member of the duo and ran for a grand total of two hours. Despite this unique format, it was extremely successful, climbing to number one on the charts. It featured the band’s most successful single, Hey Ya!
41. Self-Titled Album — Franz Ferdinand
Scottish indie rock band released their eponymous debut album in 2004. It was extremely popular in both the UK and the US, receiving multiple Grammy Award nominations. Critics had high praise for it, predicting a long and popular career for the band. Its most popular singles included Take Me Out and The Dark Of The Matinee.
42. Viva La Vida or Death And All His Friends — Coldplay
It seemed that the song of the year in 2008 was Coldplay’s titular Viva La Vida. It hit number one on the charts in the US and the UK. But though the track was the best-recognized of the album, it was not the only one that attracted praise. The entire tracklist was their challenge to find a new sound for their next project.
43. Vespertine — Björk
One artist who has never been afraid to stand out is Icelandic musician Björk, and her 2001 album Vespertine was no exception. Intimate and sensual, it revolved around personal experiences of sex and romance; it was heavily influenced by the poetry of E.E. Cummings and playwright Sarah Crane. It took the singer’s electronic music in a new direction, using unique instruments such as the harpsichord, harp, and celesta.
44. White Blood Cells — The White Stripes
The White Stripes reigned supreme on the indie rock scene of the early 2000s, and their 2001 album White Blood Cells was one of the best. It was the first big commercial success for the band, particularly because of the single Fell In Love With A Girl. The album was praised for its simple, classic rock-influenced style, which affected the development of indie rock and garage rock throughout the rest of the decade.
45. Funeral — Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire released their debut album Funeral in 2004 to instant acclaim. It was widely praised by music critics as one of the most influential albums of the decade, receiving a Grammy Award nomination for Best Alternative Music Album. The single Rebellion (Lies) was particularly successful, hitting number 19 on the UK charts. Contemporaries widely considered Funeral to be a modern classic and one of the best albums of the decade.
46. You Are Free — Cat Power
Cat Power’s 2003 album You Are Free certainly has star power, featuring vocal contributions from Eddie Vedder, Dave Grohl, and Warren Ellis. But it didn’t need these celebrities to bolster its marketing; it stood on its own merit. Rolling Stone called it her best and most beautiful album, featuring a loveliness and intensity that her previous ones lacked. It also placed on the Billboard 200, her first album to do so.
47. Voodoo — D’Angelo
R&B artist D’Angelo released his highly-acclaimed debut album, Brown Sugar, in 1995, but it wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that he released his second. Voodoo was praised for its innovative new musical style, which featured elements of neo-soul, jazz, R&B, funk, and psychedelic soul. It was highly anticipated and an instant success, receiving a platinum certification. It has been widely called one of the most important neo-soul albums of the 21st century.
48. Sea Change — Beck
The 2000s brought new trends in country music, and one ideal example is Beck’s 2002 album Sea Change. A sampling of folk rock and country rock, the music was imbued with themes of loneliness, heartbreak, and hopelessness. It marked a significant change in his musical style, but the risk paid off; Rolling Stone later called it the musician’s best album of all time and the top album of 2002.
49. Since I Left You — The Avalanches
Electronic music was still going strong after the turn of the new millennium, as evidenced by the 2000 electronic dance album Since I Left You by The Avalanches. After a successful release in the band’s native Australia, they launched an international release, which was also met with a good response. It was infused with elements of psychedelic rock and disco music, making for an infectiously catchy electronic dance record.
50. Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga — Spoon
Spoon released their sixth album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, in 2007 to instant acclaim. It was widely considered one of the best albums of the year, peaking at number 10 on the Billboard 200. Featuring a unique blend of musicality and sound, it was praised for its creativity and catchiness as well as for its singles Don’t Make Me A Target, Don’t You Evah, and The Underdog.
51. Neon Bible — Arcade Fire
Neon Bible was Arcade Fire’s second album, released in 2007. It peaked at number two on the Billboard charts and was the band’s first major commercial success. Completely self-produced, it caught the attention of critics, who called it a genre-defining work for the future of indie music. This was impressive, considering that it was released within months of other hotly-anticipated albums from The Shins and Modest Mouse.
52. The Eminem Show — Eminem
During the turn of the 1990s, Eminem’s albums were highly influenced by the introduction of his evil alter ego, Slim Shady. But 2002’s The Eminem Show was a step in a different direction; it was lighter and more influenced by rap-rock than his previous work. This may have been in part due to his work as his own producer. Critics praised it as the rapper’s most personal album to date.
53. Oh, Inverted World — The Shins
The Shins’ first album, Oh, Inverted World, was released in 2001; it was an immediate success, propelling the band to the forefront of the indie punk genre. It was so successful that they landed a recording deal soon after its release. It was named on several lists of Best Albums of 2001; the tracks Caring Is Creepy and New Slang became some of the band’s signature songs.
54. Discovery — Daft Punk
Daft Punk’s second album, Discovery, came after more than four years of working on other projects. It was during this time that the duo introduced their famous robotic costumes under the narrative that a studio disaster had turned them into robots. It was a concept album exploring childhood memories, cinema, and nostalgia; it also helped define their unique house sound, which had been less developed during the release of their debut album in 1997.
55. The Black Album — Jay-Z
In 2003, the hip hop industry was rife with rumors of Jay-Z’s retirement. His 2003 album, The Black Album, was widely hyped as his last—it followed seven others. His retirement from music was short, as he began recording again in 2006. Nevertheless, this album was widely considered to be one of the best of his career. It received high praise from music critics and was granted three platinum certifications for its sales in the US alone.
As the Head Editor and Writer at Music Grotto, Liam helps write and edit content produced from professional music/media journalists and other contributing writers. He works closely with journalists and other staff to format and publish music content for the Music Grotto website. Liam is also the founding member of Music Grotto and is passionate in disseminating editorial content to its readers.
Liam’s lifelong love for music makes his role at Music Grotto such a rewarding one. He loves researching, writing and editing music content for Music Grotto.