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The 100 Greatest Albums of the Digital Age

written by: on November 18, 2011

70. Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006):

Yes, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor” is wildly catchy. And yes, they are one of the biggest things to come out of the U.K. since The Beatles. But why the Arctic Monkeys? ThoughWhatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not may have gotten its start on MySpace riding on the success of a single, and though mp3 technology may have propelled this group to the top of the pops, what continues to stick with us in 2011 are the crunchy riffs and the too-good-to-be-true poetry frontman Alex Turner penned at only 19. Take for instance, “Riot Van,” a slow burner of a track that feels like something out of a Kerouac novel: “Up rolled the riot van / and sparked excitement in the boys / But the policemen look annoyed / Perhaps these are ones they should avoid,” From the nihilistic cover art to the flawlessly executed songs, everything about the record is just right. –John Taylor

69. Built to Spill – Keep It Like a Secret (1999):

Many Modest Mouse fans don’t realize how much they owe Built to Spill, or how much they would like them if they gave them a listen. While both bands have obviously carved their own niches in the indie guitar rock world, Built to Spill’s popularity has been a much more… modest one. Nevertheless, their first three albums stand among the greatest trios of releases in indie rock. Keep It Like a Secret rounds out the trio with ten of their most polished, catchy tunes to date. While this may be the band’s “pop” album, it’s no more of a pop album than, say, Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. The band serves up succinct numbers like “The Plan” and “Sidewalk” but also lets loose on “Carry the Zero” and “Broken Chairs” and each track is given equal consideration. Doug Martsch’s riffs and hooks have never been more penetrating and assured and it’s a wonder why, even through a major label release, it’s been kept like a secret for so long. –Chris Favata

68. Blink-182 – Enema of the State (1999):

Taming Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker would be harder than herding a clan of house cats. Enema of the State, Blink-182’s third studio album, is all about girls, partying and avoiding having to grow up—which, admittedly, are common themes throughout any of their works. The album produced a handful of chart-topping singles, “What’s My Age Again?” “All the Small Things” and “Adam’s Song,” but with all the hooks here, almost any one of the songs could have held that title. Enema is like one long party soundtrack. DeLong and Hoppus’ buoyant vocals, along with Barker’s tireless drumming, make us all scratch our heads and wonder if growing up is really worth it. –Alex Peak 

67. The Decemberists – The Crane Wife (2006):

Colin Meloy has always been as much of a storyteller as he is a musician, a trait prevalent in The Crane Wife. The album weaves a tapestry of narratives against a dynamic background of orch-pop and prog rock, including feudal Japan (“The Crane Wife” saga), Leningrad circa World War II (“When the War Came”) and Ireland in the ’70s (“Shankill Butchers”). The Crane Wife sees The Decemberists picking up where they left off in their experimentation with 2004’s The Tain, by applying their classic rock knowledge, but keeping to their sweet, folksy sound that would be almost absent in 2009’s The Hazards of Love. The Crane Wife proves Portland’s chamber pop darlings can venture into prog nerd-dom and return polished and bruised in the right spots. –Ciara Shook

66. Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven (2000):

While F#A#(Infinity) was music for the apocalypse, Lift Your Skinny Fists is more of a discourse on present-day matters. Sounding no less bleak for most of its 80+ minute duration, the four massive suites that make up the album have higher highs, lower lows and ultimately more real, connectible composition. Aided by field recordings of ARCO AM/PM gas station announcements and Murray Ostril reminiscing about how wonderful Coney Island used to be, the Canadian collective conjures vivid images of the decay of our civilization. On the musical front, we can hear the group subtly slip in the tune of “Amazing Grace” beneath the crashing of drums and horns among thousands of other things. The sound they generate is massive, the melodies burn their way into the soul and their construct is something only Godspeed could ever do. A truly magnificent sonic document of its time. –Chris Favata

65. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (2009):

Being a commercial success and maintaining a firm foot in the area of acceptance with music purists is difficult these days with every person who’s ever picked up a guitar seeming to have a blog and an opinion. France’s Phoenix are one of few bands that have been able to toe this line, with the most glaring example being 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. With the radio play and subsequent use of “1901” in every car commercial from Detroit to Germany, Phoenix was able to balance that with exemplary songwriting and expert instrumentalism throughout Wolfgang. As each song seamlessly blends into the next, the album plays like a classic record from beginning to end. –Matt Wink

64. Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbered Days (2004):

Sam Beam has had a very consistent career so far, but Our Endless Numbered Days surely stands as his best work. Cleaning up the lo-fi, old-timey roughness of his home-recorded debut, The Creek Drank the Cradle, Beam created a clear and crisp record with twelve excellent songs that sound no less intimate than before. He continues to keep the layers to a minimum, bringing his gorgeous hush of a singing voice to the forefront. It sounds like he’s whispering directly in your ear. It’s nearly impossible to choose highlights, as each has a delightfully vivid story to tell (even if the subject matter can be a bit dreary) and some of the most expressively fingerpicked guitar this side of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. While our days seem endless for a while, we are eventually met with the sad reality of our limited time on earth. Beam reminds us to relish the good moments and keep those memories close. Listeners will want to keep this one close as well. –Chris Favata

63. At the Drive-In – Relationship of Command (2000):

At the Drive-In is like Pink Floyd for post-hardcore and emo fans. What always made At the Drive-In so strong was that they were an emo band that sang about intergalactic battles, human trafficking, while juggling philosophy and politics at the same time. Relationship of Command is the magnum opus of all post-hardcore, mixing punk, jazz, and angst in a mature and tasteful way that can be listened to after teenage years and still be good. “One Armed Scissor” might be one of the best pump-up songs of all time. The guitars are light years ahead of any other band and still are to this day for the genre. This album also marked the end of At the Drive-In, so it is even more cemented into history as the album that ended an era, defined a genre, and inspired many. –Ian Jones

62. Elliott Smith – XO (1998):

The mind of Elliott Smith is a tough nut to crack, especially if you think he left all his cards bare on his records. His early efforts seem the most skeletal (seriously, “Needle In the Hay”!?), and his last record, Figure 8, the most obtuse. So here is XO, a middle ground between Smith’s more personal and his more pop-oriented fare, a record that is at first accessible (“Sweet Adeline,” “Baby Brittain”), then enveloping (“Pitseleh,” “Ah, Well Ok”). It’s an essential conflagration of Smith’s brilliant, child of McCartney brain and his wizened, Dylan-singed soul. The phase of his life realizing this brilliance lasted all too short a time, but the lasting genius of XO is a reminder of his discovered greatness. –Tyler Remmert

61. Burial – Untrue (2007):

While in some ways Untrue is as mysterious and inscrutable as its creator, the then anonymous Burial, through the dust and the darkness comes music that perfectly exudes the loneliness and gloominess of its era. Continuing or, more accurately, updating the legacy of DJ Shadow, Burial creates sample-based music that is wholly unique and affecting. He takes simple, fractured samples and puts them over grimy, cavernous beats. The result is a certain hollowness, not literally, but rather a feeling of hollowness. The feeling that comes from betrayal, regret or seclusion. Who would have thought the words of Ray J could elicit all of that? Dubstep’s existence since the release of this album has been mostly a sorry one and it’s a damn shame, because Untrue shows just how powerful that music can be. –Chris Favata

  • Myles Coyne

    Radiohead isn;t that good…

  • Petra Poison

    No Patrick Wolf here? Fail.