1. Grandaddy - Sumday - There is, consistently, an air of tragedy in Jason Lytle's voice that really disturbs me. By disturbs, I mean that it has the ability to interrupt my current state of consciousness and really wash over me, drenching me in a sea of melancholy. I don't know exactly where I got this connotation, but the album always reminds me of JD Salinger's short story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish", they both have the exact same effect on me. They both make me feel strangely nostalgic and eerily devoid of emotion at all. If I could explain it better, I would. Let's just say that you should own this record.
Stand-out tracks: I'm on Standby, Saddest Vacant Lot in All the World, El Caminos in the West
2. The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium - From the ashes of the short-lived "it" band At the Drive-In comes The Mars Volta, and they came out swinging. With a deft command of language, that defies any expectations for lyrics, these guys also Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's driving guitars and Flea's explosive basswork really elevated this record to another level. In my opinion, they really lost something after this album. I think maybe after the destruction of At the Drive-In, Cedric and Omar had so much pent up aggression and artistic vision that was waiting to be released that it all came out on this first record. What I'm saying is they blew their load early.
Stand-out tracks: Roulette Dares (The Haunt Of), Televators, Drunkship of Lanterns
3. Jay-Z – The Black Album - This is Jay's eight studio record, and one of his absolute best. Billed as his final record, there's a motif throughout The Black Album of "farewell", be it through death or retirement. With that motif in place, the album carries a certain weightiness about it, not unlike Notorious BIG's Ready to Die. Luckily, Jay-Z wasn't nearly as prophetic as Biggie, and he's still alive and well. The production (credits include Just Blaze, Kanye, Rick Rubin, and The Neptunes) on the album is stellar, and Jay is just as potent as ever on the mic.
Stand-out tracks: 99 Problems, What More Can I Say?
4. The Fire Theft - S/T Obviously there are going to be comparisons to Sunny Day Real Estate here, so I'll just start off by saying that this record sounds more like The Rising Tide than any other Sunny Day album, being less raw than something like Diary and less emotionally straining than How It Feels, but still harnessing the power of Jeremy Enigk's vocals. Some of the songs can come off as a bit on the sentimental side, but I don't think Enigk has ever tried to hide that side of himself. It's a powerful record, I recommend listening to it with the volume up high.
Stand-out tracks: Heaven, Rubber Bands
5. Outkast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below - This now classic double album really blew me away in 2003. It's somewhat of a split EP, with Big Boi mainly being featured on Speakerboxxx (disc 1) and Andre 3000 mainly being featured on The Love Below (disc 2). An interesting route for Atlanta's dynamic duo, but it works. Big Boi's effort feels more like Outkast than Andre's, but both measure up well. Let's just face it, Andre is weird. Does it stand up next to Aquemini? Probably not, but it's still fresh (and clean).
Stand out tracks: Hey Ya!, The Way You Move, Prototype
6. Deftones - Deftones - A very original, and excitingly heavy album, Deftones is both gritty and fun. The guys really wanted to go in a new direction after White Pony, they aimed for a harder sound and it worked. It's a bit of an eclectic album, combining a bit of the old, with some new. The addition of synthesizers and keyboards is welcome within the context of the album and they also included a very accessible single in Minerva.
Stand-Out Tracks: Hexagram, When Girls Telephone Boys
7. Cursive - The Ugly Organ - The Ugly Organ is Cursive's fourth studio album, and one of their best. A concept album, the record takes us into the head of the "Ugly Organist" as he deals with the depravity of his life. The whole thing is intriguing, dealing with lust and betrayal with an adept hand, and reaching its climax at the end of the record with the opus "Staying Alive".
Stand-out tracks: The Recluse, Driftwood: A Fairytale, Staying Alive
8. Radiohead - Hail to the Thief -To be honest, I didn't know what to expect with Hail to the Thief. Kid A was such a game changer that it was hard to figure out exactly what Radiohead could do to follow it up. Hail to the Thief is a decidedly different album than Kid A. It's exploratory, but in different ways than the previous album. Kid A (and OK Computer before it) defied convention and really changed the landscape of pop music. Boundaries are pushed on Hail to the Thief as well, but it's the boundaries of the band, not of pop music. This album marked an excited time to be a Radiohead fan because where the hell could they go from here?
Stan-out tracks: Sail to the Moon, We suck Young Blood, The Gloaming
9. Dimmu Borgir - Death Cult Armageddon - One of the most rocking albums I have ever heard, Death Cult sounds like a mixture between Danny Elfman, Slayer, and a volcanoe. Usually filed under "Symphonic Black Metal", I urge any metal fan to pick it up, because you shan't be disappointed. This record will castrate your brain with it's intensity. Death Cult is Dimmu's sixth studio record, and Shagrath's vocals haven't ever sounded better.
Stand-out tracks: Progenies of the Great Apocalypse, Allegiance
10. The Unicorns - Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? - This Canadian ban ended their run entirely too soon. Luckily from their ashes sprang forth Islands, but still The Unicorns were an exceptionally good band. Who Will Cut Our Hair starts out with "I Don't Want to Die" and ends with "Ready to Die", everything in between seems to be about taking your lumps and learning acceptance of mortality. Heavy stuff for a sometimes silly band.
Stand-out tracks: Tuff Ghost