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.)
- Jimmy Eat World - Bleed American (2001; my favorite early 00's rock; hints of emo, punk, and power pop)
- Yellowcard - Ocean Avenue (2003; quintessential 2000's punk rock; hint of emo; rock violin)
- Red Hot Chili Peppers - By the Way (2002; rock with funk, punk, and jam; later Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band)
- The Killers - Sam's Town (2006; indie rock with alt, pop, dance, and heartland; growing up in American hometown lyrics)
- Snow Patrol - Eyes Open (2006; indie alt rock; Scottish-Irish power pop)
- Imagine Dragons - Night Visions (2012; alt pop rock; percussive; sprinkles of electronic)
- Bastille - Bad Blood [or All This Bad Blood extended edition] (2013; synth/piano indie alt pop rock; touch of electronic; percussive)
- Walk the Moon - Walk The Moon (2012; dancey 80's-induced pop rock with synth fun)
- St. Lucia - When The Night (2012; dancey tunes! some synth with 80's vibes; indie electronic synth-pop; "tropical")
- Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow (2014; British, indie, electronic rock with world music style)
- OK Go - Hungry Ghosts (2014; fun, simple rock; "clever and quirky" alt, indie power pop)
- Dave Matthews Band - Under the Table and Dreaming (2014; jam band, jazz, funk, pop, world, alt rock fusion!)
- The Postal Service - Give Up (2003; electronic indie with classic Ben Gibbard vocals/lyrics; made by two guys mailing Digital Audio Tapes back and forth via USPS)
- El Ten Eleven - El Ten Eleven (2005; instrumental post-rock; looping and vamping)
- Ratatat - Classics (2006; electronic instrumental; looping and vamping)
- Pendulum - In Silico (2008; quintessential drum 'n' bass electronic rock)
- Daft Punk - Random Access Memories (2013; house, techno, dance, electronic)
- Tycho - Awake (2014; electronic, ambient instrumental; IDM)
- A Great Big Pile of Leaves - Have You Seen My Prefrontal Cortex? (2010; indie rock; kinda "emo revival"; lighthearted nostalgic; "a throwback to being a kid and having fun")
- Young the Giant - Young the Giant (2011; alt indie pop rock)
- Two Door Cinema Club - Tourist History (2010; post-punk, dance-punk, electronic, indie pop rock)
- CHVRCHES - The Bones Of What You Believe (2013; indietronica, synth-pop with great female singer)
- Alicia Keys - The Diary Of Alicia Keys (2003; piano and soulful singing; some R&B and hip hop)
- OutKast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2002; hip hop in Southern soul style; some experimentation with funk, psychedelia, jazz, R&B, and techno)
- Blue Scholars - Blue Scholars (2004; Seattle MC/DJ hip hop duo; great lyrics; even better beats)
- Incubus - Morning View (2001; alt funk rap metal rock)
- Taking Back Sunday - Tell All Your Friends (2002; alt emo pop punk rock with some post-hardcore)
- Anberlin - Never Take Friendship Personal (2005; harder alt rock and a drop of emo)
- Motion City Soundtrack - Commit This To Memory (2005; indie emo alt pop-punk rock)
- We Are Scientists - Barbara (2010; fun indie alt rock; so simple, so good)
- Jack Johnson - In Between Dreams (2005; soft acoustic rock with some folk and surf)
- Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago (2008; indie folk-ish with electronic and distinct vocal timbre)
- Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela (2006; acoustic guitar instrumental; Mexican style; percussive and rhythmically grand)
- Lettuce - Crush (2015; funky horns and brass! mostly instrumental; soulful grooves with traces of hip hop)
- Arliss Parker - Handsome Like A Lion (2008; nostalgic lil' instrumental EP; sleepy; found instruments)
- Plini - Handmade Cities (2016; instrumental progressive rock; hard, intense, yet groovy)
- Strawberry Girls - French Ghetto (2013; instrumental progressive rock)
- Gabriel Gundacker - I Wanna Meet Richard Dreyfuss (2016; haha! classic; comedy; an incredible, dynamic, and moving story)
"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.