(40) Times New Viking "Rip It Off" (2008, Matador)
The Stooges went to London to make "Raw Power"; Times New Viking simply went to the basement to conjure theirs. "Rip It Off" was sonically searing, but behind the nasty exterior was all the evidence anyone should need that Jared, Beth and Adam are among the most talented songwriters working in rock today.
(39) Iron & Wine "The Creek Drank the Cradle" (2002, Sub Pop)
Sam Beam never sounded better than through the hiss and crackle of his four-track recorder - never warmer or realer than in these soft Southern folk songs birthed in some Florida bedroom.
(38) The Decemberists "Castaways and Cutouts" (2002, Kill Rock Stars)
Until this year's surprisingly strong "The Hazards of Love," The Decemberists' output had become more inane with each release even as they got more polished and musically ambitious. So it was easy to forget the sweet simplicity of their debut, one of the definitive indie releases of the decade. Colin Meloy was as nerdy back then as he is now, but he set his historical fiction ballads to easily digestible folk-pop that made the stories feel more like sweet dreams and less like drama club gone bad. At the time the band was accused of ripping off Neutral Milk Hotel, but judging by their vast influence on this decade's musical landscape - and their enduring impact on the thousands of teenagers and twentysomethings who swear by this music - it feels more like the Decemberists set a new template of their own.
(37) Caribou (formerly known as Manitoba) "Up In Flames" (2003, Leaf)
By framing woozy psychedelia with crystalline production and aggressive breakbeats, "Up In Flames" achieved a sound unlike anything I'd heard before. It still sounds futuristic today, and it's a future I can look forward to with wide eyes and a gaping grin.
(36) The Notwist "Neon Golden" (2002, City Slang)
Who knew Germans could be so delicate? Markus Acher built a self-contained world somewhere between krautrock and minimal electronica that deftly skipped through the emotional spectrum without straying from a distinctive swath of guitars, keyboards and programmed beats. It begins with isolation ("One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand") and ends with love so powerful it can paralyze ("Consequence"). Everything in between amounts to one of the most majestic and unique album experiences of the decade.
(35) McLusky "McLusky Do Dallas" (2002, Too Pure)
What a bunch of (extremely talented) assholes!
(34) Spoon "Kill the Moonlight" (2002, Merge)
Britt Daniel and Jim Eno stripped away every unnecessary sound, leaving their peppy post-punk artfully exposed like brick in a fancy apartment. They ended up with the best album in a career full of classics.
(33) The Walkmen "Bows + Arrows" (2004, Record Collection)
The Walkmen can be an extremely repetitive bunch. For a long time, I couldn't tell the difference between most of the deep cuts on "Bows + Arrows." I still probably can't identify most of them by name. But after repeated exposure on disc and in person, I know they rule, and that's all that matters. Hamilton Leithauser's voice is almost as unique as his name, soaring to emotional peaks without stumbling into overbearing tripe. His bandmates play insistently, mostly making more out of less but occasionally, triumphantly pouring it on for some of the decade's most climactic rockers.
(32) AC Newman "The Slow Wonder" (2004, Matador)
No one expected an album so laid-back and comfortable from the man responsible for New Pornographers' spastic sugar rush. But indeed, "The Slow Wonder" signified a paradigm shift for Newman that soon extended into his main band. It had its explosive moments for sure ("Miracle Drug," "The Town Halo"). More often, though, it sounded like the work of a songwriter who had learned to stop and smell the roses.
(31) Justin Timberlake "FutureSex/LoveSounds" (2006, Jive)
In case anyone was still wondering whether J.T. was worth taking seriously four years after "Justified" established him as a credible solo force, he teamed with Timbaland and dropped some next-level sleaze - the sort of monumental future funk that would have been instantly canonized had Timberlake died tragically along with the rest of his N Sync bandmates. (Wait, they're not dead?)