- The Mountain Goats
Eight proper studio albums and a wide variety of incredible music in them makes John Darnielle’s legacy a tough one to beat. It’s hard to highlight just one or two of these albums, because so many of them are top notch. Even Mountain Goats fans don’t agree on which albums are the best. The Sunset Tree probably deserves the top slot because of its variety and depth; Darnielle’s recount of his childhood and its strong, positive message about survival and hope in the face of abuse is breathtaking. His collaborations were amazing, his EPs were amazing, his concept albums were amazing, his proper albums were amazing. Get Lonely is another favorite here, very sad, but the overall effect, like all of the Mountain Goats work, is to inspire hopefulness through catharsis. Meanwhile the breadth of All Hail West Texas, an album where every song is about a specific region of Texas, is insanely impressive. While newcomers may find his voice grating at first, it’s hard to imagine someone that would find the entirety of the 2000s discography dull.
- Animal Collective
Weird for the sake of weird is pointless. Weird is good when it’s exciting and makes songs sound fresh even after dozens and dozens of listens. Weird is good when it is blended with the warm and familiar so that the listener forgets that it even is weird and is able to just enjoy music. Animal Collective, despite having features to their songs that in a vacuum are bizarre, have been described as a modern Beach Boys. With eight proper albums, four of which are spectacular, that range extremely in style, they are another easy pick. Sung Tongs is loaded with beautiful soundscapes that find their pinnacle in later song “Banshee Beat,” whereas Strawberry Jam is filled with the exciting songs that are infectious in their oddities. When the Mountain Goats are playing in the background, I’ll sing along with familiar tunes, maybe tap my foot; when Animal Collective is playing, I want to belt out every weird and wacky soundeffect and vocal trick.
Sufjan would have easily topped this list if 2010 hadn’t revealed that his best song hadn’t been written yet and 2015 hadn’t revealed that his best album hadn’t been written yet. Sufjan is the modern Psalmist, writing songs of joy and sadness with equal passion and lyrical depth. Like Darnielle, Stevens’ songs are like novellas evoking characters and worlds way beyond what is normally expected in a four minute song. Like Darnielle, Stevens is insanely prolific with a vast variety of styles. One person he has been compared to is Kanye West, because both alternate between maximalism and minimalism with grand ambitions and loyal followings, and Kanye is going to be his major competition for artist of this decade.
Not nearly as well known as the other entries here, Mirah’s songs are like ideas crystallized on vinyl. Mirah Yom Tov Zeitlyn released four proper albums and a host of collaborations during the decade. Life, love, and loss are the brushstrokes of her creations. Her early songs that bubble with excitement (see You Think It’s Like This But It’s Really Like This) grew with complex rhythm structure (see Advisory Committe and C’mon Miracle) and then the maturity of experience (see Songs from the Black Mountain Project and (a)spera). Lyrically she can be unbeatable, and her charming sincerity has served Zeitlyn throughout her career.
- Danger Mouse
As a producer, it’s hard to put Danger Mouse into the musician category, but he’s certainly a musical artist. With works ranging from the amazing mashup of The Grey Album to the humor of The Mouse and the Mask to the infectiousness of St. Elsewhere, his talents are unsurpassed. Of course his specialty is taking music and making it sound timeless.
- Honorable Mention: The xx
With only one album appearing in 2009, it’s hard to say that the xx were particularly significant to the 2000s. However, their album that squeezed in at the end of the decade was astoundingly good. They could only be on this list as an honorable mention, but when music of the 2000s is mentioned, it’d be a shame not to mention their gem.
- Bottom: Yoko Ono
This should not be a surprise. This is Yoko Ono’s third appearance as the bottom slot of one of these lists. She somehow released two albums in the 2000s. Now, I could encourage you to listen to a song or two off of these albums so you could see that she could be in this slot even if she didn’t break up the Beatles (which she may not have done, but on principle), but I wouldn’t wish that upon my enemies. I wouldn’t even want Yoko Ono to listen to Yoko Ono. So please, don’t attempt to listen to the video above.