Top 20 Albums of 2000 (2023)

2000 was an exceptionally good year for music, possibly the best since I first started Pitchfork in 1995. Typically, we end the year with a list of the 10 best records, but this year, even narrowing it down to 20 didn't come easily. There were tons of great bands we wanted to mention-- there just wasn't room.

We compiled this list using the same system we've always used, which involves getting a list of each writer's 20 favorite albums of the year, and, based on a geekish points system, totaling up the final list. Here's what we came up with. --Ryan Schreiber

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (1)

20 Jackie-O Motherfucker
Fig. 5
[Road Cone]

Inside the cardboard folio case of Jackie-O Motherfucker's relentlessly inventive Fig. 5 is a picture of giant boombox planted in the middle of a disaster-stricken neighborhood. The houses slouch toward ruin, but the ghetto blaster is as proud and upright as the Lincoln Memorial. Fig. 5 could not ask for a better emblem. Two multi-instrumentalists, Tom Greenwood and Jef Brown, surrounded themselves with a host of eclectic jazz, rock and country musicians, a gospel choir, and some mixing equipment, and constructed an aural revision of American musical history. Garbage can percussion, twanging lap steel, church hymns, magmatic industrial freakout, free jazz squall, and prison camp worksongs all blended into a grim, backwater masterpiece of found and forgotten sounds. Ever wondered what rust sounds like? This is your chance. --Brent S. Sirota

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (2)

19 Two Lone Swordsmen
Tiny Reminders

Andy Weatherall and Keith Tenniswood's Two Lone Swordsmen project doesn't fuck around. The inaccurately titled Tiny Reminders was, in fact, a whopping huge klaxon-blast of nervy electro, pogo-post-punk funk, and manic Neu! energy. If last year's Stay Down was a pressurized tank of toxic gases, Tiny Reminders was that same tank ruptured, its vicious contents propagating throughout the area. A tremendous follow-up for an already overachieving debut. --Paul Cooper

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (3)

18 Badly Drawn Boy
The Hour of Bewilderbeast
[Twisted Nerve/XL]

Infused with wünderkind Damon Gough's wicked sense of humor, The Hour of Bewilderbeast is an hour-long score for the lifespan of a romantic relationship (yes, just like Whip-smart ). A debut this acclaimed is truly a rare feat, especially for a naif with a folkie's tender sensibilities. Did the Boy set the bar too high? The fact that the music on Bewilderbeast eclipses all of the focused hype, the gimmicky theme and the attention baggage that accompanies an accolade such as Britain's Mercury Music prize is a true deposition on the innate songcraft skills of Gough, and suggests otherwise. --John Dark

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (4)

17 Summer Hymns
Voice Brother and Sister

Voice Brother and Sister is an album in the classic sense. Not a record, not a bunch of songs, but an album. Every single element of Voice Brother and Sister-- from the hazy summer imagery depicted on the cover, to the beautiful, laid-back melodies, to the unique and imaginative instrumentation-- fit together without a hitch, adding up to what could be the perfect "summer" album. Though the lyrics are at times cryptic, the themes on Voice Brother and Sister are truly universal; frontman Zachary Gresham taps directly into the collective memory. Even on the first listen, this album seems eerily familiar. --Matt LeMay

16 Sleater-Kinney
All Hands on the Bad One
[Kill Rock Stars]

An open message to all those who have referred to Sleater-Kinney's move away from their signiture sparse, angular arrangements towards catchier hooks, beautiful guitarwork, and a fuller, more rocking sound as "selling out": "You're no rock n' roll fun/ Like a party that's over/ Before it's begun." Always smart and often touching, this record is awesome. Sleater-Kinney chanced losing some riot-grrl cred in favor of writing songs that cover a more diverse spectrum of emotions and themes, and came up their most compelling and political record to date. The anger is still there, but so is a frustration with our culture's hypocrisy, a silliness in spite of it, sadness, cynicism, hope, and rock n' roll fun to spare. Right now, I'm listening (again) to the final track, "The Swimmer." It's a yearning torch ballad, so I'm holding a lighter up to the speakers. Yes, this is Sleater-Kinney. --Kristin Sage Rockermann

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (6)

15 Enon

Timmy Taylor and Jeff Buckley died around the same time a few years back. This year, the music world offered several cruel reminders of these corpses. Every honky with a guitar in the U.K. yearned for Buckley's pouty vibrato and hedged bedhead, cranking out hours of Jell-O Instant Brooding. Brainiac's absence is numbed and occasionally abated thanks to band survivor John Schmersal, who may not have the sass and haywire soul of Taylor, but ably carries Brainiac's cracked machine into the future. Believo 's hi-fi scrapheap spits more hooks and feathers than Brainiac. Rick Lee's inventions spice up the fuzzy mix. All in all, it's an eclectic tart from an underground veteran who landed on his feet after disaster. --Brent DiCrescenzo

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (7)

14 Super Furry Animals
[Placid Casual/Flydaddy]

In their 2001 Census forms, the British government failed to include a "Welsh" checkbox under the "nationality" query. Just another offense in a long history of London's long attempt to squash the ancient language. This gesture seems even more absurd in a year when the U.K.'s most creative pop band, the Super Furry Animals, crafted a haunted, rural ode in their native Welsh tongue. Bypassing their typical chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter pastiche of kinky electronics 'n' rock, the Furries exhaled a light, live acid acoustic sound, more suited to fireplaces and great stony halls than Glastonbury. Frosting breath and sparkling horns spread over plaintive strumming and the occasional gonzo burst. Considering the Anglo-Welsh relations of the last dozen centuries, the success of Mwng raised the finger as high as "God Save the Queen." Way to spit on your ambassadors, England! --Brent DiCrescenzo

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (8)

13 Crooked Fingers
Crooked Fingers

Like a passion play written by Charles Bukowski, or the Pogues on a morphine binge with Leonard Cohen, Crooked Fingers turns spiritual decay into something beautiful, even transcendental. Primary member Eric Bachmann still draws his inspiration from the same fount that spawned Archers of Loaf's noise-rock nihilism and the more eclectic instrumental arrangements of Barry Black, but Crooked Fingers was an entirely different beast from either one; possessive of a cohesiveness and confidence previously lacking, Bachmann's bitter tales went down smooth like good bourbon, warm and gentle but not without its sting. --Nick Mirov

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (9)

12 Gas
[Mille Plateaux]

A few Pitchfork writers found themselves transfixed by Wolfgang Voigt's lush, richly detailed soundworld. Pop was one of the year's most distinctive ambient releases, featuring a gently modulating environment and the sounds of nature as mimicked by jealous machinery. If it got any warmer and fuzzier, the New Age Police (better known as the NAPD) would have been booting the velvet door in. But wait, what's that? Why is an army of threatening kick drums amassing on the horizon? Ah, just like life, the bliss never lasts. And we're left with virtual memories of lazy days in the Black Forest. For immersive sound divorced from song, Gas was untouchable. --Mark Richard-San

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (10)

11 King Biscuit Time
No Style EP

Periodically, Steve Mason has taken time out from the Beta Band to remind himself and his listeners that songs needn't be more than nine minutes long. No Style 's opener, "I Walk the Earth," is the perfect baggy anthem, which gets us all moist for the days of the Happy Mondays, the Mock Turtles, and the Soup Dragons. "Fatheriver" is drum-n-bass in service to lonesome melody, while the gorgeously harmonized "I Love You" imagines Nick Drake as a member of Sardonicus-era Spirit. No style?! Hardly. Mason oozes the stuff. --Paul Cooper

10 Smog
Dongs of Sevotion
[Drag City]

No, that's not a typo. Songs of Devotion would be far too direct for Smog's Bill Callahan, who for a dozen years has churned out album after album of disturbing prose and haunting music. But with the freakish cat artwork of last year's excellent Knock Knock, Callahan also exhibited a palpable sense of humor. This new vein bulges up under the skin of Dongs, rendering his work more enigmatic than ever. Is it depressing or hilarious that a man wants his wife to dress sexy at his funeral, with her "blouse undone to here?" Should I be scared or amused by cheerleaders who sing, "No time for a tete-à-tete/ Can I borrow your machete?" The answer, it seems, is both. And just to make sure that you grasp his poignant absurdity, Callahan has bestowed his latest offering with one of the most ridiculous album titles ever. --Ryan Kearney

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (12)

09 Clinic
Internal Wrangler

A simple organ drone and drum machine beat reminiscent of Yo La Tengo's "Autumn Sweater" open Clinic's "Distortions." Ade Blackburn's voice enters like a sick but contained cry; rather than simply placing boundaries on the utterances he lets leak from his body, Blackburn is lyrically obsessed with this seepage, the rhetoric of the uncanny, and early 20th century gothic.

The desire for the womb and tomb, and the shock of a still body blinking its eye inform lyrics like "I've pictured you in coffins/ My Baby in a coffin/ But I love it when you blink your eyes/ I want to know my body/ I want this out not in me." After the last word is spoken, "Distortions" takes cue from the Velvet Underground's "Heroin" and speeds its heartbeat. That's all in three minutes of Internal Wrangler !

Clinic map articulations of dark cultural fantasies onto typical musical influences (garage rock chord organ, VU, Wire) to create vital compositions and an unsettling diagnosis. And they do all of this dressed in Sgt. Pepper's surgical outfits. --Kristin Sage Rockermann

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (13)

08 Les Savy Fav
Rome (Written Upside Down) EP

As a rule, the loss of a founding member generally means the beginning of the end for a band. But Les Savy Fav don't believe in rules, and Rome (Written Upside Down) made this clearer than ever before. It's a given that Les Savy Fav are one of the greatest live bands to come along in ages, but with Rome, they inched toward making their records every bit as unpredictable and exciting as their awe-inspiring live performances. With guitarist Gibb Slife no longer providing a steady backing for their unique, biting take on post-punk, the band broke even further away from traditional rock dynamics, creating an EP angular and gritty enough to turn the fluffiest bunny rabbit into a Brillo pad. --Matt LeMay

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (14)

07 Microphones
It Was Hot, We Stayed in the Water

Phil Elvrum's musical bag of tricks on his third release as the Microphones was more akin to a junk drawer. It was a sonic clutter that accumulated over the course of his years as a notable and prolific producer. Picking through the jumbled bits of fuzz, tape loops, soft harmonies, xylophone, distortion, and a parade of friends (just an illustrative few), Elvrum welded the disparate pieces together with the same end-oriented vision as a sculptor. What boggled the ear was the seamless, deep-structure soundscape that resulted from the found orchestra. With the infrastructure imbedded, skeleton-like, just below the surface, It Was Hot elicits incredulous, slack-jawed double-takes when the subterfuge is discovered under more myopic scrutiny. --John Dark

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (15)

06 Grandaddy
The Sophtware Slump

They're from Modesto, California, they play atmospheric rock infused with incongruous computerized effects, and yeah, they're named Grandaddy. But The Sophtware Slump was an important entry into the small canon of technologically-themed albums. Although they address human (and humanoid) alienation, Grandaddy didn't adhere to blind, self-centered humanism. Think of this album as OK Computer on an alpine mountainside, elevation 12,000 feet.

In Grandaddy's world, "meadows resemble showroom floors" and one is forced to the outermost reaches of nature (crystal lakes, ice shelves and glaciers) just to escape the refuse of technology, defunct or otherwise, that litters life. Sound hyperbolic? Living on a planet where even the highest mountain is strewn with tens of thousands of empty oxygen bottles, spent fuel canisters and batteries, Grandaddy might be right on the mark. --Ryan Kearney

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (16)

05 Godspeed You Black Emperor!
Lift Your Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven

Yes, they wear all black and roll their own cigarettes. Yes, the exclamation point is part of their name. And yes, they're Canadian; there are nine of them and they are visibly pissed off about something. Nevertheless, Lift Your Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven was an almost indigestibly massive double album of stunning innovation and strange new directions for the sullen nontet.

Taking baby steps away from the symphonic vitriol of the Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada EP, the band's latest release flirted with shoegazing, ambient drift, thick drone rock, and new classical. The album even seemed to smile on occasion. Featuring material recorded over the last several years, Lift documented new trajectories in Godspeed's music promising further innovation in the future, I guess, if there is one. --Brent S. Sirota

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (17)

04 Yo La Tengo
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out

A friend once walked out of a Yo La Tengo show grumbling some words including boring. Later he asked, "Why they don't change chords more"? Yo La Tengo have made a career of producing compelling answers to that question, ranging from pop anthems shrouded by waves of distortion to the soft tremulous drones of And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out.

These songs were carefully composed layers of intricate percussion, warm organ tones, and lullabies that worked against themselves, asking you to lean in closer rather than drift off to sleep. Not only is a subtle tension created by melodies this alluring and restrained, but the love songs' lyrics are also quietly edgy. The most voyeuristic sensations are often felt while looking in on the least melodramatic moments. --Kristin Sage Rockermann

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (18)

03 Modest Mouse
The Moon and Antarctica

Modest Mouse fans were understandably nervous about the band's major-label debut. Would Epic demand a more radio-friendly sound from Issaquah's finest? Would they be encouraged to reel in the fractured instrumental codas? Did Sony want frontman Isaac Brock to become the new Johnny Bravo? No, no and no, though the band could probably make rhinestone suits work. Instead, Modest Mouse took the major-label budget and made the best of it, recording the album they always wanted to make with Red Red Meat studio ace Brian Deck.

"Dark Center of the Universe" featured Brock's angriest guitar tone since "Tundra/Desert," while songs like "The Cold Part" and "Lives" found the band using the studio to craft dense atmospheres that would have been inconceivable with earlier producers. Some found it hard to adjust to the new sound, but The Moon and Antarctica is certainly Modest Mouse's most sophisticated statement to date. --Mark Richard-San

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (19)

02 Sigur Rós
Ágætis Byrjun
[Smekkleysa/Bubble Core]

When the next ice age rolls around, Ágætis Byrjun will be considered sacred music. A blast of pure frozen beauty, the stateside debut from this Icelandic group is largely exploratory, drawing almost every conceivable sound from reverb-drenched guitars, keyboards, and, most impressive of all, the androgynous humanoid vocals of singer Jón Thór Birgisson. But though Birgisson's voice could easily be likened to a celestial being, there's something touchingly mundane about it.

Ágætis Byrjun put most so-called "atmospheric" music to shame. Rather than relying upon ready-made electronic textures, the band's atmosphere rose naturally out of the flowing, organic soundscapes they constructed. Listening to this record made immediate surroundings seem like a living, breathing terrarium, rippling and swaying in rhythm with layers of submerged keyboards, bowed guitar, and painfully beautiful vocals. Ágætis Byrjun is an album of paradox: although it is sonorously glacial, it will melt your heart, if not the rest of you. --Matt LeMay

Top 20 Albums of 2000 (20)

01 Radiohead
Kid A

What's left to be said about Kid A? By now, virtually every publication and music-based weblog has offered their two cents. Both fans and detractors littered message boards and chat rooms with their "unique" takes on the record. But when was the last time an album of such artistic merit was debated to this degree? Kid A marked the first time in ages that a band whose previous album saw heavy rotation on MTV had total creative freedom, and took it as an opportunity to expand the definition of popular music.

Fans unwilling to accept that Radiohead had shed the skin of rock music for celestial electronic manipulation claimed that no song on Kid A matched the emotional riptide of OK Computer 's despairing "Exit Music (For a Film)" or "No Surprises." If anything, Kid A aches more deeply without the anchoring of lucid lyrics; songs like "Everything in Its Right Place" and "Motion Picture Soundtrack" express desolation, mourning, and distant hope instrumentally, whereas OK Computer 's "Let Down" would have just been another chiming Britpop ballad without such signature Thom Yorke melodrama as "one day, you'll know where you are."

To pit Kid A against OK Computer would be absurd; the two albums are dissimilar to the point of incomparability. But the band's fearless leap into such uncharted waters is respectable on the merits of confidence alone. That Radiohead, once immersed in their new concept, managed to assemble an album this emotionally powerful from raw technology is a testament to their creativity as artists rather than technicians, and to their position as one of rock history's greatest bands. --Ryan Schreiber

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