A surely biased and incomplete list of the best albums of the 21st century

by David Hartsough (2019-06-26)

Introduction

This is not some Billboard top charts list; this is more like if there were Grammy Awards for "albums of the century", except the entire National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was replaced by me and all the nominees were just whatever albums I've ever listened to. It has more to do with what I think is an amazing album than what was voted most popular by the cool kids, what was hitting the Top 40 radio, or what was bought most at an FYE or Barnes & Noble. To me, an amazing album is chock-full of banging great songs, one right after the other, for a collective masterpiece of music; it has only terrific, jamming tunes. Every song is worthwhile. These albums aren't just a set of songs with one or two hot singles amidst a handful of mediocre throwaway tracks; they are each a holistic work of art. The albums here are meant to be appreciated in the way CD's were during a time before "shuffle" — listen to them all the way through in the order the artist intended.

Note: Similarly, I kinda organized the order of the list by "date and genre" -ish. (Really only noticeable in the "Top tier".) Usually the albums are grouped by genre with the earliest/oldest albums first. The order is not by ranking.

Disclaimer: Apparently my biases appeared in the form of leaning heavily toward genres of either (the ever-broad and all-encompassing) "rock" or electronic. (I wish I included more hip hop, R&B, soul, and jazz.)

Top tier

Also noteworthy runner-ups

Comments


"But David, I don't see some of your favorite artists and some of the best bands ever on here that you're always bumping. What gives?"

If I made a list of all the artists I genuinely appreciate for being great musicians who have made music I love, we'd be looking at a list of almost 400 bands. This is intentionally narrowing down a list of the best albums, and even some of the best artists don't always have an amazing album -- maybe they just have scattered singles and hits across their discography. To me, the most amazing albums need to be enjoyed holistically; every song has to be awesome, not just 3 out of the whole album.

Also, I purposefully limited the list by putting that "age limit" on it — only albums born after the year 2000. Then, for some reason, I only chose 19 top tier albums and 19 runner-ups.


"This artist has a better album!"

Oh boy. I had a really hard time picking these, and I wanted to include more than one album for most artists. Basically, if you like the album I recommended, there might be another album from that same artist that you'll love even more! I usually opted for the artist's earliest album when choosing between two or more great albums. Almost every artist listed here has more than one amazing album. Please go listen! Explore the discographies for yourself.