August and Everything After – That Adam Duritz is the greatest songwriter of my generation is undeniable. That critics do not roundly consider his band’s initial major label release a classic is maddening. A refreshing break from the dominating grunge sound of the early 90’s, August and Everything After is alternative rock personified. Tracks like “Mr. Jones,” “Round Here,” “Rain King,” and “Sullivan Street” radiate an intimacy seldom found in modern music and serve as all the reason why this album is still relevant two decades later.
Is This It? – The most influential and imitated rock album of the 21st century. Clocking in and just under 37-minutes, the Strokes freshman opus is a landmark recording that reinvigorated rock n’ roll music for a generation while spawning a multitude of imitators in the U.S. and abroad. It is hard to pin down a favorite track; all 11 songs are miniature masterpieces (“Barely Legal,” “The Modern Age,” “Last Night,” and track no. 9 on the international release “New York City Cops” stand out as my personal favorites). This is hands down the coolest band and album of this millennium so far.
Whatever People Say I am, That’s What I’m Not – The debut album from Sheffield, England’s Arctic Monkeys isn’t so much a breath of fresh air as it is a punch to the face. The Arctic Monkeys are almost a British version of the Strokes, just a bit cheekier and far more cockney. Breaking records in the UK for fastest selling debut, Whatever People Say… is a booze-filled joyride of pub fights (“Red Lights Indicates Doors are Secured,” “From the Ritz to Rubble”), hookups (“I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor,” “Dancing Shoes”), and keen social observations focused on modern age pretensions (“Fake Tales of San Francisco,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” “A Certain Romance”). Fast paced and witty, this isn’t just a great rock album, it’s the sort of album that will leave you with a racing heart and a smirk on your face.
Sam’s Town – The critics will tell you that The Killer’s second offering was a let-down; the personification of the dreaded sophomore slump. I couldn’t disagree more. Sam’s Town is not a misunderstood album, it is noteworthy for the very reason critics panned it; an Americana romp that is a departure from the sound that made Hot Fuss—The Killers debut—so popular with listening audiences. If Hot Fuss was a fantastic demonstration of electronic rock, Sam’s Town is an ode to lead vocalist Brandon Flowers’ Las Vegas roots. This album is, if it’s anything, a homage to the very American and organic beginnings of the band as a whole. Viewed through this lens, tunes like “When We Were Young” and “Read My Mind” evolve into songs that not only move the listener, but make total sense within the album’s conceptual framework. In the age of the global marketplace and mass-produced pop, Sam’s Town works as both as foot-tapping rock experience and unique piece of American music-making.
The Suburbs – Arcade Fire’s third studio album is a masterwork of alternative rock music. Winner of the 2010 Grammy for Album of the Year, a strong argument can be made that The Suburbs is the greatest album of the 21st century. It would be too easy to classify The Suburbs as a concept album; it is a 16-track variation on a theme, one that meanders around subject matter such as youth-fueled angst, globalization, consumerism, and alienation. Touching on such heady subject matter might force lesser bands to come across heavy-handed, however the Canadian collective, powered by ex-pat Win Butler’s sobering vocals, resonate a subtly that makes tracks like “Modern Man” and “Suburban War” powerfully sublime and introspective. Put simply, The Suburbs is a masterpiece that everyone should own.
Ready to Die – Rap music is one of the few art forms (if you want to call it that) where it is impossible to separate the art from the artist. As such, it is hard not to consider The Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album and introduction to the world as anything short of a classic. Released a mere two-and-a-half years before Christopher Wallace’s murder, Ready to Die paved the way for the meteoric rise of New York-based East Coast rap. This is one rap album that I can, still to this day, recite off the top of my head. Cuts like “BIG Poppa,” “One More Chance,” and “Juicy” remain hip-hop anthems nearly 20-years after their release. When you consider lyrics like “I had the master plan/I’m in the caravan on my way to Maryland/with my man Two Techs to take over these projects/they call him Two Techs/he totes two techs/and when busts he likes to ask ‘whose next?’” it’s hard not to be in awe and chuckle all the same.