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The 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years (1985-2014)

SPIN hit a milestone this year: our 30th birthday. To celebrate, we caught up with some of the artists behind our past picks for Album of the Year, held a readers’ poll, reminisced with former staffers, and now, we’ve ranked the 300 best albums of the past 30 years.

Drawing on ballots from more than a dozen contributors, the editors whittled a roster of just under 1,000 nominees to a list of undisputed masterpieces, longtime pleasures, and new favorites — all of them classics (well, according to us).

Before we get started, some ground rules: To prevent certain artists from having a stranglehold on the countdown (Radiohead and Kanye West come to mind immediately), we decided that no single act could have more than three entries on the list; studio albums were eligible, of course, as were EPs and live albums; compilations qualified only if the songs featured were most closely associated with said collection.

Accounting for (and arguing over) 30 years of music is quite an undertaking, but we’re sure you’ll let us know of any oversights. (Don’t be afraid to let us know which picks you agree with, either.) And with that…

300. Green Day, American Idiot

(Reprise, 2004)

Green Day Mk. II was kicked off in earnest by a concept album that both legitimized the trio’s long-simmering Who infatuation and provided them with a worthy blockbuster of Who’s Next proportions. Like most great concept albums, the singles are some of the worst things on here: The flag-waving ‘80s arena rock of “Are We the Waiting?” and the crunching Kinks power-pop of “Extraordinary Girl” are each worth a thousand walks down the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams.” — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

299. Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal

(What’s Your Rupture?, 2014)

In which America’s next great underground rock band has itself a stretch and leans into the light, expanding their wire-taut (and Wire-derived) post-punk ca-chunk in directions both Dylanesque (“Dear Ramona”) and Nuggets-mining (“Ducking and Dodging”). It’s no Faustian bargain for mainstream acceptance, though; the Denton-via-Brooklyn heavies are too busy ripping off Faust (“She’s Rolling”) to engage with such quandaries. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

298. Ice Cube, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted

(Priority, 1990)

What happens when the West Coast’s preeminent firebrand joins forces with the East Coast’s premier sonic architects: a middle finger as mission statement, fattened with tightly packed funk rips. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted caught Ice Cube fresh off of his split with N.W.A, trolling his critics (see: “The Nigga Ya Love to Hate”), and basking in a new partnership with Public Enemy’s go-to production team, the Bomb Squad. This here is a dream team-up done right; the kind of fanboy wish fulfillment that should make the knuckleheads behind DC vs. Marvel ashamed of themselves. — KYLE MCGOVERN

297. Gorillaz, Demon Days

(Virgin, 2005)

Cartoons are often unfairly pushed to the kiddy corner, but the animated members of Gorillaz rejected that ignorance with their sophomore album. Tackling depression and the dumbing-down of culture via the De La Soul collab “Feel Good Inc.,” Damon Albarn’s post-Blur supergroup was ready to be taken seriously and, in its own sly way, be serious. Employing gloomy, wonky beats — including an eerie sample from the 1978 Dawn of the Dead soundtrack — and right-brained producer extraordinaire Danger Mouse, Albarn proved that his funky art project wasn’t a gimmick, but a genre-blending exploration into personal and societal demons. — JAMES GREBEY

296. Various Artists, Total 4

(Kompakt, 2002)

The best of Kompakt Records’ annual roster-spanning compilations, and the one microhouse collection that even music listeners with zero interest in making a pilgrimage to the clubs of Cologne still need in their life. Early 21st-century techno got no more sweepingly lush than Jürgen Paape’s “Mit Dir,” more heartbreakingly aching than Closer Musik’s “Maria,” or more gleefully redundant than Superpitcher’s cover of Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire.” — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

295. Old 97’s, Too Far to Care

(Elektra, 1997)

Imagine if early Lennon-McCartney crafted song after wondrous song that fell between two warring radio formats, and you have some idea of the scale at which Old 97’s broadcast cow-punching honky-tonk-core from Fort Kickass. The opening ignition of hardest-rocking country song ever (“Time Bomb”) and greatest one-night-stand song ever (“Barrier Reef”) alone should explain how they’ve sustained a legion cult for 20 years without much help from their former major label Elektra or the imaginary radio station these would dominate anyway. — DAN WEISS

294. Sigur Rós, Ágætis Byrjun

(Play It Again Sam, 1999)

It’s a common misconception that Sigur Rós only record songs in “Hopelandic,” the made-up language invented by singer and bow-wielding guitarist Jón “Jónsi” Þór Birgisson. Not so: Most of the post-rock maestros’ sophomore symphony, Ágætis Byrjun, flows with their native Icelandic. But for Stateside devotees — be they in a dimly lit dorm room, a Hollywood editing suite, or out in the world, admiring everyday wonders — either tongue would do. The lush, all-consuming grandeur of beauties like “Svefn-g-englar” knows no boundaries. — KYLE MCGOVERN

293. Garbage, Version 2.0

(EastWest/Warner Bros., 1998)

Before Kid A changed what electronic-fused alt-rock could do, Trent Reznor wasn’t the only one who could craft a bulletproof album with pretty hate machines. With highlights aplenty from Shirley Manson (“I am a wolf but / I like to wear sheep’s clothing”) and her pet producers’ processed-guitar droids, this very 1998 candy-industrial onslaught is the best cybersex you ever had. — DAN WEISS

292. Usher, Looking 4 Myself

(RCA, 2012)

Usher’s seventh LP feeds off its flirtations with EDM and modern pop producers like Swedish House Mafia, Diplo, and will.i.am, revitalizing the thirtysomething star with his simultaneously most diverse and most consistent album to date. Lead single “Climax” is the most stunning four minutes of Usher’s career and a true song-of-the-decade contender, but the Luke Steele-featuring title track is Looking 4 Myself at its most definitive: introspective, unexpected, and hurtling headlong into euphoria. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

291. The Hold Steady, Separation Sunday

(Frenchkiss, 2005)

A word-drunk sermon also buzzed on more than a few PBRs and carafes of sacramental wine; a concept album-length parable populated by hoodrats and sleazebags, aging scenesters and used-up fringe-dwellers, pushers and prey; a redemption tale that answers Catholic guilt with classic-rock riffs that could powder the empties in any small-town dive. In short: how a resurrection really feels. — KYLE MCGOVERN

290. Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes

(Atlantic, 1992)

In its own way as influential and important as any of the more commercially impactful early-‘90s alt-rock breakthroughs, with Tori taking on would-be stalkers and would-be saviors alike and letting them all know that making her come doesn’t make them Jesus. The singer-songwriter confessional had never felt this confrontational before, or — thanks to Tori’s shockingly successful efforts to weaponize her piano the way Jimmy Page did his guitar — this stadium-ready. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

289. The Unicorns, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?

(Alien8, 2003)

The ramshackle swan song of a mythical Montreal unit with ties to Arcade Fire and a dozen spinoffs (most notably Islands), this quintessentially aughties quirk-bomb is jammed with squelchy folk, lo-fi pop, deep grooves, and cute lyrics about the sort of ghosts you’d want to eat ice cream with. Also: a plot point in How I Met Your Mother. — CHRIS MARTINS

288. Tyler, the Creator, Goblin

(Odd Future, 2011)

Welcome-ish proof that the artistic desire to offend isn’t limited to white privilege (though it does seem like a sausage fest). Odd Future’s fearless leader turned the rap game into 4chan here, rhyming skillfully about not just raping pregnant women but accepting blowjobs from Michael Jackson, taking pink Xanies in all-over print panties, and wanting to be the reason all lesbians hate dick. “I’m awesome,” the misfit surmises. “And I f**k dolphins.” The rare 19-year-old f**khead who swims in the entire cesspool of his uncensored imagination rather than just the shallow end. — DAN WEISS

287. TV on the Radio, Dear Science

(Interscope, 2008)

Seven years later and Barack Obama’s assurances of Hope and promises of Change haven’t been outright erased, but they have eroded a bit. Luckily, a more cautiously optimistic message from the fall of ‘08 — TV on the Radio’s Dear Science — hasn’t lost its luster. The synth-finished sheen of opener “Halfway Home” continues to disarm; the mournful ache of “Family Tree” lingers long after the strings and piano; and the low-rumbling allure of “DLZ” hasn’t dulled a bit. As for that “Golden Age” alluded to in the fuzz-funked lead single — we’ve got faith that it’s still comin’ round. — KYLE MCGOVERN

286. Sugar, Copper Blue

(Rykodisc, 1992)

The short-lived Sugar — a power trio fronted by punk icon Bob Mould — crackled like a lit fuse; their debut, Copper Blue, was a collision of chewy pop hooks, clanging noise-rock riffs, and Mould’s throttling vocals. But it’s the weird, ornate details — the creeping psych-pop organ, proggy bridge, and backmasked sounds of “Hoover Dam,” to name a few — that truly distinguish the set. — ANNIE ZALESKI

285. The Books, Thought for Food

(Tomlab, 2002)

In 2002, no one handled wordless long-form songwriting with such imagination and eye-twinkling humor as this duo of folktronica experimentalists. Stringing together elegant instrumental melodies with woven-in samples pulled from their extensive library (i.e., the matter-of-fact spelling bee in “Eat, Read Sleep,” snippets of dialogue pulled from Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt), Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong quilted post-rock into an embroidery of fresh patterns and surprisingly vivid shades. — RACHEL BRODSKY

284. The Killers, Hot Fuss

(Island/Universal, 2004)

The neon-lit brilliance of the Killers’ debut album lies not in its static-kissed post-punk riffs or endlessly singable choruses. (Who among us hasn’t fallen prey to “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier”?) No, what really makes Hot Fuss resonate is the resigned melancholy that flows throughout. It’s a distinctly Las Vegas record — native son Brandon Flowers sees through the glitz and glam of Sin City and locks his guylined eyes on the unfulfilling truth underneath the allure, conveying that emptiness with both new-wave flash and weariness. — JAMES GREBEY

283. Superchunk, I Hate Music

(Merge, 2013)

Indie-punk stalwarts refuse to compromise DIY ethics, put more than a decade of work into their epoch-defining band, decide in 2001 to go on a nine-year sabbatical and focus on other ventures, including the juggernaut label founded by their two principals; begin second act in earnest as the ‘00s give way to the ‘10s, succeed a satisfying comeback album with an even more rewarding follow-up, one that’s rambunctious but not sloppy, dewy-eyed but not maudlin. “I hate music / What is it worth?” A lifetime of service, apparently. — KYLE MCGOVERN

282. Digable Planets, Blowout Comb

(Pendulum, 1994)

Before igniting the Low End Theory crowd with Shabazz Palaces, this was Ishmael Butler, a Grammy-winning paragon of cool, whose live-bebop backing pre-pimped the butterfly and chopped and screwed Tribe down to Portishead’s gritty pitch the same year that Dummy dropped. Call it the rebirth of unslick, or American trip-hop that didn’t throw the rap out with the bongwater. — DAN WEISS

281. The Go-Betweens, Tallulah

(Beggars Banquet, 1987)

Robert Forster and Grant McLennan maybe didn’t think they were crafting anthems when they cobbled together their greatest album, but adding multi-instrumentalist Amanda Brown certainly turned these ten nerdy love songs into something widescreen, adding gnashing violin beneath the vows of “Right Here” and quacking oboe to take the sting from the gin on the swelling classic “Bye Bye Pride.” — DAN WEISS

280. Sleater-Kinney, The Hot Rock

(Kill Rock Stars, 1999)

With their urgent, intricate fourth album, Sleater-Kinney sandpapered their punk approach without losing any of their bite. In fact, The Hot Rock’s nods to needling indie, murky blues-rock, and pogo-pop presaged the relentless boundary-smashing that S-K would go on to master. — ANNIE ZALESKI

279. Aerosmith, Pump

(Geffen, 1989)

Aerosmith gets no respect for locating that perfect sweet spot between the shamelessness of ‘80s sleaze-metal and the self-aware wink of proto-ironic ‘90s MTV culture. But they’ve got soul and they can goddamn write — the key changes that elevate “What It Takes” and “Love in an Elevator” heavenward, the “You’re so tight your lovin’ squeaks” in “F.I.N.E.,” the horn interjections throughout “The Other Side.” If you fell for Axl Rose blubbering over his “Sweet Child O’Mine,” wait until you hear Steven Tyler lose sleep over the abused daughter in “Janie’s Got a Gun.” — DAN WEISS

278. Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head

(Capitol/EMI, 2002)

A greatest-hits comp attempting to disguise itself as a sophomore album: “In My Place,” “The Scientist,” “Clocks,” “God Put a Smile Upon Your Face”… even deep cuts like “Green Eyes” and “Amsterdam” will eventually get played as much on classic-rock radio in 2030 as the non-singles off of Boston’s debut are now. After Rush of Blood, Coldplay officially stopped being That Band That Wants to Be Radiohead, and every other pale four-piece on VH1 officially became That Band That Wants to Be Coldplay. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

277. Ride, Nowhere

(Sire, 1990)

Maybe the only notable LP from shoegaze’s first wave to more accurately resemble a tornado than a hurricane or monsoon — there’s some gorgeous rainfall and moments of serene stillness to be had, sure, but they’re far outnumbered by the leveled buildings and cows flying past your windshield. Oh, and speaking of Coldplay: Don’t ever listen to “In My Place” and “Dreams Burn Down” back to back — every time you hear the former’s drum intro on the radio, you’ll just be disappointed when it doesn’t turn out to be the latter. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

276. Frankie Knuckles, Beyond the Mix

(Virgin, 1991)

The closest thing the Godfather of House left us to a definitive document isn’t even that close; without any of his classic ‘80s Jamie Principle collabs (or anything as gleefully dirty to match). Still, the 10-track debut LP does burst with Frankie’s ineffable brightness, mostly notably on regal throne-assuming opener “Godfather,” peerlessly euphoric dance-pop smash “The Whistle Song,” and — in case you dared dismiss him as lightweight — closer “Soon I Will Be Done,” a gospel TKO that’s only become more devastating in the wake of the pioneer’s 2014 death. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

275. Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob

(Vapor/Warner Bros. 2013)

Here, the former folk-rock darlings of the North prove they should have been as big as Bryan Adams all along, with ten sparkling, pulsating synth-pop tracks that are more “Call Me Maybe” than “Call It Off.” What makes this album such an achievement is how the twins’ songwriting is still as raw, brutal, and veiny as ever — “Heartthrob” may or may not be what Tegan and Sara are, but it’s definitely what their music does to you. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

274. Ice-T, O.G. Original Gangster

(Sire, 1991)

For all the iconicity of the title, Ice-T’s greatest album has been somewhat overlooked not just because of the “Cop Killer” rapper’s ironic Law & Order fame but because his Jello Biafra-level sarcasm never convinced the hip-hop Mafiosi of his homicide credentials. He loves flipping the script on everyone, proclaiming men can be bitches too, and giving his buddy Evil E a sex story so real it ends in 45 seconds. And if you assume it’s dated, you didn’t hear this from N.W.A in 1991: “She wanna be lez, he wanna be gay / Well that’s your business, I’m straight / So nigga have it your way.” — DAN WEISS

273. Slint, Spiderland

(Touch & Go, 1991)

The breadcrumb trail left from ’80s post-punk and lo-fi to ’90s post-rock and slowcore, a album so mysterious and unknowable that it hovers untethered over indie like a yellow moon (and was all but impossible to follow up). Nearly 25 years later, listening to Spiderland is still like the title character of “Don, Aman” stepping outside a crowded bar alone into the sober night: frightening, isolating, and indescribably serene and beautiful. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

272. The Mekons, The Mekons Rock ‘n’ Roll

(Collectors’ Choice, 1989)

“East Berlin can’t buy a thing / There’s nothing they can sell me,” sneers born anti-capitalist Jon Langford on his hardest-rocking statement of purpose to date, “Memphis, Egypt.” On the next track, the nonplussed Sally Timms expresses her wish to be bought and sold like — check the title — rock’n’roll. Mock they will, but on this uncommercial major-label debut — with these riffs, fiddle, and axe alike — they’re proud prostitutes. So call it Disgraceland, or as these amplified countrymen prefer, “Empire of the Senseless.” Rock ‘n’ Roll belongs to them, now they can keep it. — DAN WEISS

271. Sublime, Sublime

(Gasoline Alley/MCA, 1996)

Bradley Nowell never got to bask in the success of his band’s major-label debut, but the self-titled collection — home to hybridized reggae, ska, punk, and hip-hop jams like eternal ‘90s-rock-radio staples “What I Got,” “Wrong Way,” and “Santeria” — has a perennial presence that’s kept it spinning on boardwalks, surf shops, college campuses, and any other place you’d likely find a hanging tapestry. — RACHEL BRODSKY

270. George Michael, Faith

(BMG/Columbia/Sony Music Entertainment, 1987)

If anyone was worried that he couldn’t possibly thrive on his own without the, uh, emotional support of co-Whammer Andrew Ridgeley, George Michael’s solo debut quickly assuaged any such concerns, exploding onto the pop scene like the Thriller of the late-’80s. The musical ground covered on Faith — with a newcomer’s gusto and a veteran’s grace — remains breathtaking, including Faux Diddley strutting (the title track), Jam & Lewis stadium R&B (“Monkey”), and show-stopping jazz balladry (“One More Try”); all No. 1 hits, natch. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

269. The Pogues, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash


No other figure of the rock’n’roll era writes like Shane McGowan: “They took you up from midnight mass and left you in the lurch / So you dropped a button in the plate and spewed up in the church.” His below-fingernails grit, alley-moleskine slang, and ammonia-scented accent — not to mention songs as ruggedly magnificent as “Sally MacLennane” and “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” — made this Elvis Costello-produced classic easily the best punk to procure accordions up until Gogol Bordello tore the Iron Curtain a new one. But no one can drink the original under the table. — DAN WEISS

268. Maxwell, Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite

(Sony Music Distribution, 1996)

In the post-Boyz II Men era of R&B over-emoting and forced romantic urgency, Maxwell was content to simply have you over to his Urban Hang Suite to kick a little sumthin’ sumthin’. Smooth, sensual, and obviously adult, Maxwell’s debut refused to sacrifice elegance or grace in the name of getting laid, yet when he promised that his lovemaking would be a public disturbance requiring police intervention, you had no choice but to take his word for it. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

267. The Deftones, White Pony

(Maverick, 2000)

Even the folks who remember nü-metal as nothing but a sea of faceless mooks in backwards caps have to give it up for White Pony, 12 tracks of crunching corrosion with as much sonic depth as a Cocteau Twins LP and as many hauntingly gorgeous melodies as a Portishead album. The key moment might be “Teenager,” a three-minute digital bath of glistening drums and gently picked acoustic that keeps you white-knuckled in suspense for a metal breakout that never comes — the perfect exemplification of the tension-and-almost-release that keeps Pony so breathtaking. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

266. Stereolab, Emperor Tomato Ketchup

(Elektra, 1996)

Their Tinkertoy approach to Lego-rock evoked the synchronized bliss of a thousand ticking watches, with nerdy-funk bass lines, rudimentary but never rough hooks, and a sense of play that hypnotizes calmly almost 20 years later, down to the orchestrations and Marxist analyses. “Tomorrow Is Already Here” announced the prettiest track, gourd pianos aflutter. — DAN WEISS

265. Swervedriver, Mezcal Head

(A&M, 1993)

Shoegaze only in era and volume, Mezcal Head was really Oxford axe-wielders Swervedriver’s successful attempt to make the great guitar-rock road-tripper album of the ’90s. “Duel” married Motown hookiness to Mötley Crüe arena-shredding, “Last Train to Satansville” was the Alternative Nation’s answer to “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” and 12-minute extendo-jam blissout “Never Lose That Feeling / Never Learn” — if you were fortunate enough to get it as the closer to your U.S. edition of the LP — was the original champagne supernova. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

264. The Microphones, The Glow, Pt. 2

(K, 2001)

A headphones LP of the highest order, this magnum opus defies categorization. To call it “indie rock” or “folk” would be ham-fisted. There are punk drums, but that’s not it either. “Experimental” overlooks how comely these songs are, and while “lo-fi” fits, the production prowess is astounding. Phil Elverum’s voice hums like a singing saw or cracks like a split tree, unfurling personal poetry — detail-laden yet beatific — across an oversaturated, instrument-rich 66-minute album-as-tactile-landscape. — CHRIS MARTINS

263. Neko Case, Blacklisted

(Bloodshot, 2002)

Blacklisted’s desolate, desert-twang sound — a direction forged with the help of such esteemed guests as singer-songwriter Howe Gelb and Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino — is matched in intensity only by Neko Case’s voice; beauties “Deep Red Bells” and “I Wish I Was The Moon” pierce the soul with emotional clarity and heft. — ANNIE ZALESKI

262. Sebadoh, Bakesale

(Sub Pop, 1994)

Lou Barlow might’ve still been wound tighter than a magnet’s coil in 1994, but he’d loosened up enough to allow an LP’s worth of radio-accessible, iminently likeable rock riffers to trickle out under the Seabdoh name, including the near power-poppy “Rebound” and the sneakily affecting ballad “Skull.” The puking-baby nudity of the album cover and Barlow’s remaining general misanthropy (“I’m not a good friend / I’m not a friend at all”) allayed any potential fears of an actual mainstream crossover, instead just leaving Bakesale as the one Sebadoh LP that no one could really justify hating. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

261. Sun Kil Moon, Benji

(Caldo Verde, 2014)

There comes a point in everyone’s life when all of the people around you start getting sick, getting pregnant, or dying in freak accidents — at least if you take a 47-year-old Mark Kozelek’s word for it, as he spends ten tracks and 10,000 words here reconciling his cousin’s death from an aerosol can explosion (“Carissa”), a 20-year-old kid’s elementary school shooting spree (“Pray For Newtown”), and the inevitable devastation his mom’s death will one day inflict upon him (“I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love”). The thing every absurd encounter and (un)timely death here shares is Kozelek’s simultaneously haunting and comforting so-it-goes tone, his delivery implying that life invariably goes on after we die, and these spirits will survive in the singular Benji. — RACHEL BRODSKY

260. My Chemical Romance, Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge

(Reprise, 2004)

Refrain from snark about guyliner: MCR’s second studio album is the nexus of the Smiths’ mopey rockabilly, the Damned’s goth-punk barnstorming, and the Cure’s ink-dark moods. — ANNIE ZALESKI

259. Bruce Springsteen, Tunnel of Love

(Columbia, 1987)

Bruce’s Blood on the Tracks, denied a similar historical esteem for committing the cardinal sin of being a divorce confessional built as much around synths as acoustic guitar. But “Brilliant Disguise” is more brutally self-immolating than “Idiot Wind,” “Tougher Than the Rest” more blood-pumping and heart-wrenching than “Shelter From the Storm,” and “Walk Like a Man”… well, it’s way better than “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” certainly. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

258. Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago

(Jagjaguwar, 2008)

Tempting as it may be to think of Bon Iver’s debut more as the source of a modern-day myth — bearded songsmith suffers breakups with his lady and his band, retreats to a woodland cabin to nurse his wounds, emerges with a life-changing masterwork — and less as an actual record, resist the lazy classification. Yes, the fable-worthy backstory makes for an intriguing elevator pitch, but the reason that origin arc started circulating in the first place is the heart-wrecking work it produced: a solitary set of nine carefully crafted folk tunes, red-eyed and soulsick but possessed of a cherished falsetto and a determination to find strength in sensitivity. — KYLE MCGOVERN

257. The Chills, Submarine Bells

(Slash, 1990)

Chills mastermind Martin Phillipps is a good salesman: “It’s a heavenly pop hit if anyone wants it,” he enjambs cleverly into the chorus of the Kiwi band’s biggest mainstream flirtation, followed by the spiraling piano-down-the-rabbit-hole refrain of “Tied Up in Chain.” The punk-paced “The Oncoming Day” and tremolo-induced trance “Singing in My Sleep” then pave the way for his finest composition ever, “I Soar,” a seafaring ballad complete with synthesized pennywhistle. So if he sounds like he tosses off hook-stuffed tunes like they’re morning papers, it’s because for 35 perfect minutes in 1990 he did. — DAN WEISS

256. Cannibal Ox, The Cold Vein

(Def Jux, 2001)

Five mics weren’t enough for Harlem MCs Vast Aire and Vordul Mega: They wanted 108, and you can hear the duo racking them up over 74 minutes of inimitable flow, endlessly quotable lyrics (“You got beef but there’s worms in your wellington”), and retro-futuristic pinball sonics (courtesy of a never-better El-P) on debut album The Cold Vein, the closest thing the ‘00s had to a 36 Chambers revisit. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, and that’s why Cannibal Ox could afford to wait 14 years to issue a follow-up: They got it so very right the first time. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

255. The Field, From Here We Go Sublime

(Kompakt, 2007)

As bracing as a cold front to the face, as mesmerizing as a pale sun looming over a serene ocean. For his full-length debut as the Field, Swedish techno pathfinder Axel Willner crystallized flickering beats, ambient washes, and diced-up samples (Lionel Richie, Kate Bush, and the Flamingos among them) to form an immaculate whole — an entrancing, glacial gem suffused with ecstasy and melancholy; a wordless rush of emotion that chills the blood even as it gets the pulse pumping. — KYLE MCGOVERN

254. Beastie Boys, Ill Communication

(Capitol/Grand Royal, 1994)

Mike D, MCA, and Ad-Rock’s fourth album is an anomaly in that it finds them digging in rather than moving forward. It captures the trio at their most lithe, serving up a pupu platter (hold the mashed potatoes) of styles — alt-hop, jazz-funk, Latin groove, punk — plus an ace Q-Tip cypher and the only truly great rap-rock song ever made. — CHRIS MARTINS

253. Caribou, Swim

(Merge, 2010)

Dan Snaith’s third LP as Caribou recalls Studio 54 in its waning hours, as a sweat-crusted diva stretches her limbs and sheds a tear on the long walk home alone while the sun rises. Glimmers of Iberian partying hide beneath Swim’s slick surface, but the clatter comes to a precipice when the pulsing keys and horns and flutes part ways to allow for a glimpse of what’s been there the whole time: a little synthy sliver of humanity. — BRENNAN CARLEY

252. Wussy, Funeral Dress

(Shake It, 2005)

From the Ass Pony ashes and Lisa Walker’s untapped melodic reserves, a songwriting project began its unkempt journey into semi-popular history with an 11-song catalog of unshowy literacy and blue-collar aestheticism. Lagging conversations establish the mood, garbage trucks on parade set the scene. Every detail still stings: three chords and heartbreak. — JASON GUBBELS

251. M83, Saturdays = Youth

(Mute, 2008)

The nocturnal intensity of Before the Dawn Heals Us had to give way to the morning eventually, and on follow-up Saturdays = Youth you can practically hear the blinds snapping out of the sun’s way on the screaming synths and lush singalong hooks of the incandescent “Kim & Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl.” Band leader Anthony Gonzales would soon O.D. on youthful nostalgia on the ensuing 2011 double LP, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, but while M83 was only spending one day a week remembering playground fun, it was as sweet and satisfying as watching early-morning cartoons for the first time in years. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

250. Basement Jaxx, Rooty

(Astralwerks, 2001)

The other high-profile sophomore release from a European house duo in 2001, Rooty hasn’t survived to be namechecked by a generation of burgeoning bedroom- and stadium-EDM producers, but its vision for the future was as gloriously (and mindlessly) ecstatic as that of any dance LP this century. What the pummeling bliss of “Jus 1 Kiss” and the jazz-hands frenzy of “Do Your Thing” implied, the album cover and “Where’s Your Head At?” video made clear: The albino apes had taken over, and the planet is now a much funkier place for it. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

249. L7, Bricks Are Heavy

(Slash, 1992)

The inaugural Clinton era was great for grungy Lollapalooza stalwarts like L7, whose lyrical style amounts to a garbage plate of social commentary (“Body bags and dropping bombs / The Pentagon knows how to turn us on”) with inching, buzzing guitars to match. Even with Butch Vig behind the boards, it still feels bizarre that the blocky crunch-pop fluke “Pretend We’re Dead” became a hit, yet of-their-time screeds like “Diet Pill” and “Sh—list” remain as up-to-date as ever. — DAN WEISS

248. Cursive, The Ugly Organ

(Saddle Creek, 2003)

“My ego is like my stomach / It keeps s**tting what I feed it.” OK, Cursive’s subject matter on The Ugly Organ might be drearier than Omaha in February, but frontman Tim Kasher buttresses his sorrow with swelling strings (recall cellist Gretta Cohn’s shivering solos), jingle bells (“The Recluse”), and, of course, the album’s titular organ, making sexual frustration, post-separation misery, and general ennui sound uniquely exquisite. — RACHEL BRODSKY

247. Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca

(Domino, 2009)

David Longstreth’s eccentricity is such a precise thing, and yet his masterstroke of an album is so difficult to describe. Flitting African guitar figures chase melismatic R&B coos through a soundscape of jagged time signatures and noisy flash-bangs, but beauty reigns still somehow, supported by the deeply felt grooves, warming strings, folksy nudity, and astounding vocals. These songs are as artfully made as austere museum pieces, and yet they’re alive and full of color, almost athletic in their grace and strength of movement. And Longstreth’s obsession with language is palpable as he cracks wise with odd lines like, “What hits the spot like Gatorade?” This, actually. — CHRIS MARTINS

246. 2Pac, All Eyez On Me

(Koch, 1996)

The only real criticism to be levied against 2Pac’s double-album masterwork is that there’s simply too much of it — even Kendrick Lamar probably struggles not to zone out after he gets past “Picture Me Rollin'” on Disc 2 — but it’s hard to complain much when there’s so much brilliance here: id-strokingly irresponsible taunts (“Can’t C Me”), out-on-bail party anthems (“California Love”), clear-eyed streetlife serenades (“Shorty Wanna Be a Thug”), and so much more. Hit skip every now and then if you gotta, Pac ain’t mad at cha. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

245. Air, Moon Safari

(Astralwerks, 1998)

Moon Safari’s “Sexy Boy” may have reached more than a few listeners through a flurry of college-party pamphlets in 10 Things I Hate About You, but the legacy of Air’s 1998 debut will forever float on its Auto-Tuned, surf-sampling cloud. “You make it easy, so watch me fall in love,” guest vocalist Beth Hirsch sings over Nicolas Godin and Jean-Benoit Dunckel’s bossa nova marimbas and gentle guitar plucks. No one has ever been as persuasive as the French duo sailing across soft-lit seas of muted horns and swelling accordion beds. — HARLEY BROWN

244. Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest

(Warp, 2009)

Knotty interpersonal dynamics meet mild-mannered professionalism — not the sexiest of selling points, but domesticity brings its own rich vein of drama. Consider Grizzly Bear’s third LP a John Cheever story rendered as baroque-pop album: imbued with dusky, pastoral arrangements but gripped by the sort of interiority associated with the band’s onetime base of Brooklyn. Composed even in its conflict, Veckatimest is a lesson on keeping up appearances: It’s no accident that the collection’s most chaotic moment — a blustery breakup track — bears the polite but delusional title of “I Live With You.” — KYLE MCGOVERN

243. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter II

(Universal/Cash Money, 2005)

Mixtape purists (and Top 40 agnostics) who insist that Lil Wayne doesn’t have a proper LP to rival his stellar non-album output need to reacquaint themselves with Tha Carter II. Weezy’s fifth full-length — and predecessor to his pop crossover — indulges in its star’s signature sprawl, but somehow the 22-track roster doesn’t bloat. Best-of no-brainers (the siren-sounding “Fireman”), slick sweet-talkers (the soulful, Isley Brothers-aping “Receipt”), and minor flashes of brilliance (the laidback bravado of the “On tha Block #1” skit) all feel of a piece, part of the same chiseled monument otherwise known as the finest “Part Two” in hip-hop thus far. — KYLE MCGOVERN

242. Queens of the Stone Age, Rated R

(Interscope, 2000)

On Queens of the Stone Age’s second album, Josh Homme’s post-Kyuss project shed the “stoner-rock” tag like a heavy cloak, revealing the gnarly glamazons beneath. Opening with the now-infamous narcotics checklist of “Nicotine, valium, Vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy and alcohol” (and c-c-c-c-c-cocaine) on “Feel Good Hit of the Summer,” Homme takes full advantage of the record’s MPAA-baiting title. He does so stylishly, strutting and thrashing — with the help of then-new bassist Nick Oliveri — through the swamps of love and other drugs. — HARLEY BROWN

241. The Weeknd, House of Balloons

(Universal Republic, 2011)

Few artists have created as much mystique in such short order as the Weeknd; fewer still have killed it as quickly. What’s lost in the subsequent sea of pale imitations (paging PartyNextDoor) is just how mind-blowing House of Balloons sounded on first listen in 2011, with countless moments — the crash-landing of the Siouxsie Sioux sample that propels “Happy House” into the electro-pop crackle of “Glass Table Girls,” Abel’s near-operatic wailing over the disembodied Beach House lift of “Loft Music” — still scintillating a half-decade later. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

240. Animal Collective, Sung Tongs

(FatCat, 2004)

It’s strange to think that such a trippy collection of spirit-infested campfire songs would sound this accessible. But that’s precisely what Animal Collective (then comprised of just Avey Tare and Panda Bear) pulled off with their room-spinningly colorful and blurry fifth effort. Whether they were constructing sweetly childlike couplets (“Rabbit or a habit? Habit or a rib?”) or weaving together minimal yet tear-inducing, What Dreams May Come soundscapes (“Winter’s Love,” especially), AnCo invited listeners to join them as they constellated their place among the stars. — RACHEL BRODSKY

239. Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things (Saddle Creek, 2002)

Rilo Kiley’s second LP finds the Los Angeles foursome — led by frontwoman Jenny Lewis and guitarist/vocalist/onetime boyfriend Blake Sennett, who split soon after the album’s release — striving to seek closure: in growing pains (“You can use baseball cards to pay your rent”), romantic grievances (“And if you want me you better speak up”), and coming from a family of divorce (the segmented “And That’s How I Choose to Remember It,” sprinkled between a handful of tracks). The Execution of All Things might be a glimpse into late-onset adulthood, but it’s a startlingly familiar one. — RACHEL BRODSKY

238. Various Artists, The Indestructible Beat of Soweto

(Earthworks, 1985)

It shouldn’t surprise any newcomer that the apartheid-suppressed mbaqanga artists on the most important “world” music release of all time sustain beauty, harmony, and earth-tearing bass lines across the collection’s 12 tracks, without exception. No, the revelation is this compilation’s multitude of flavors: the throaty talking blues and gospel counterpoint of Udokotela Shange Namajaha’s “Awungilobolele,” the rollicking synth-country of Umalathini Nabo’s “Qhude Manikiniki,” the tongue rolls and robot voices of Amaswazi Emvelo’s “Indodo Yejazi Elimnyama.” The universal language wins again. — DAN WEISS

237. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

(Constellation/Kranky, 2000)

Out of the smoldering wreckage left behind by Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s gorgeously apocalyptic debut, 1998’s F? A? ?, came this awe-inspiring sequel. A double album divided into four dynamic instrumental suites, the sorta-insufferably named Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven saw the Montreal collective refine their widescreen ambition — weaving together drone, mad-scientist classical, and sampled spoken-word bits — to assemble an end-of-days tone poem filled with furious crescendos and forlorn fade-outs; wherein hope melts into despair, and the “Playground of the World” coarsens into something far more ominous: The crown jewel of post-rock. — KYLE MCGOVERN

236. Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights

(Matador, 2002)

The opening arpeggio says it all: Joy Division is dead, long live Joy Division. It was an obnoxious comparison then, but it’s easy to see now how these post-punks chewed up their Factory Records forefathers and smeared the bitter pulp across a far more epic, equally unkind canvas. Has a more lush shade of sonic gray ever existed? — CHRIS MARTINS

235. Oneohtrix Point Never, Replica

(Mexican Summer, 2011)

Daniel Lopatin’s third album is a benchmark in compromise between couples where one person can’t sleep without low hum of the TV and the other needs music. Replica samples heavily from late-night infomercials, invoking a patchwork of warped Discovery Channel scores and wave splashes, animals wheezing, and otherworldly cadences from human mouths chopped and looped before further details can be gleaned. If he could only make the blanket bigger we’d be good. — DAN WEISS

234. Janet Jackson, Control

(A&M, 1986)

A blockbuster of sneaky proportions — six out of the nine tracks were top-20 hits, all but one reaching the top five — whose message declaring the former Good Times star “all grown up” was delivered loud and clear by the peerlessly whip-smart “Nasty” and “What Have You Done For Me Lately.” Even the non-singles have endured: Closer “Funny How Time Flies” was recently sampled wholesale by obvious Janet acolyte Tinashe on her breakout album, Aquarius. —ANDREW UNTERBERGER

233. Bright Eyes, Lifted or the Story Is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground 

(Saddle Creek, 2002)

With the entire Saddle Creek gang backing (the Faint, Rilo Kiley, Cursive, Azure Ray), Conor Oberst orchestrated a grandly intimate indie-folk storybook that became the didactic snack food of a generation of hipsters. Tropes include: lovers you don’t have to love, religious distrust, existential fear, severe self-awareness, wine-swilling pals, casual drug use, edifying encounters with strangers, and not s**tting oneself. — CHRIS MARTINS

232. The War on Drugs, Lost in the Dream

(Secretly Canadian, 2014)

The Philadelphia quartet’s third LP of dreamscaped blue-collar guitar rock is unequivocally their best, and also their most ambitious. Main brain Adam Granduciel harnessed anxiety and depression — triggered by near-constant touring for two years and obsessing over Lost In the Dream’s minutiae — into epics like the chugging Springsteen homage “Red Eyes” and the sprawling seven-minute catharsis that is “An Ocean in Between the Waves.” — HARLEY BROWN

231. M.I.A., Arular

(XL, 2005)

Has any other musical persona from this century arrived so fully formed? Before you even bother fumbling for some names: M.I.A.’s full-length debut made good on the hype generated by pre-release singles and her mixtape team-up with Diplo (that would be 2004’s Piracy Funds Terrorism), serving as the globe’s proper introduction to the Sri Lankan multi-threat born Mathangi Arulpragasam. Fusing overtly political lyrics — sweatshops, child prostitution, and gun violence all get hit with floodlights — to an electro-shocked mélange of dancehall, grime, hip-hop, reggaeton, and more, Arular offers a DayGlo-colored view of the world but refuses to plead ignorance, even as it relishes in its own dizzying rhythms. Any challengers? — KYLE MCGOVERN

230. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

(Sub Pop, 2003)

A year before a painfully earnest indie film changed his life, James Mercer led us down Chutes Too Narrow, the Shins’ deceptively intricate sophomore effort. Musically direct, the follow-up to 2001’s keyboard-soaked Oh, Inverted World benefits from the touch of the band’s co-producer, Phil Ek, who invited the newly conversational vocals to the forefront and backlit the gentle, guitar-driven melodies with sunbeams. But Chutes belies its easygoing aura by treating existential worries like puzzles, as Mercer dispenses dense couplets with the fervor of a Rubik’s Cube fanatic: “This rather simple epitaph can save your hide, your falling mind / Fate isn’t what we’re up against / There’s no design or flaws to find.” Sweet on the surface, dead-eyed deep down. — KYLE MCGOVERN

229. DJ Rashad, Double Cup

(Hyperdub, 2013)

The late Rashad Harden was a virtuoso, programming the unprogrammable: jazz chords, voice samples he balanced on the tip of his finger and sent rolling back askew over vintage drum and bass. Cross-stitched with the Chicago luminary’s mutant 808s, these Footwork gumbos were more hyperactive and frenetic than any dubstep. His rebelliousness was all-inclusive; the two mottos gleaned from his sole full-length were “I don’t I don’t I don’t give a f**k” and “let me show you how.” We eagerly await the bro version. — DAN WEISS

228. Paramore, Paramore

(Fueled By Ramen/Atlantic, 2013)

Paramore’s self-titled album saw 24-year-old Hayley Williams on her grown-up s**t, with an album big and smart and tuneful enough to make radio programmers forget that rock music on Top 40 wasn’t really a thing anymore in 2013, led by lyrics that excoriated anyone who lacked the maturity and ambition to even attempt to get on her level. “I hope I die before I get old,” the (mostly male) brat-punk contingent still quipped, and “Well then why don’t you already?” was Williams’ room-silencing reply. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

227. R.E.M., Document

(I.R.S., 1987)

Shifting away from their insular Athens comfort zone with this brisk, leftist step out of college-rock obscurity, R.E.M. hit a sweet spot of jangling pop accessibility (jittery alt standard “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”), vexing romantic betrayal (“The One I Love,” the band’s first Billboard top-ten hit), and astute political parallel-drawing (the clacking “Exhuming McCarthy”). The masses might not have realized what frontman Michael Stipe was getting at when he recommended “save yourself, serve yourself,” but at least they were definitely listening. — RACHEL BRODSKY

226. Nicki Minaj, Pink Friday

(Cash Money, 2010)

“You would tell me that I lose but I won,” Nicki Minaj explains to Rap Twitter on her debut’s self-anointing opener, “I’m the Best.” Time has absolved Pink Friday, which never goes a track without an expensive hook or razor-sharp verse, crafted with the detail of a figure skater, but was too bright-neon in 2010 for the many Peter Rosenbergs of the purist world. Sure, the string of hits and gorgeous should’ve-beens (“Blazin” and “Dear Old Nicki” among her melodic best) is star-stamped by Drake, Rihanna, Eminem, Kanye West, and the then-requisite will.i.am. But it’s the hardest rapper in the world who fitted them in pink. — DAN WEISS

225. Portishead, Third

(Island, 2008)

An absolutely terrifying glimpse into the unknown, with foreboding extraterrestrial sonics that sound less like trip-hop than a reinvention of the tritone, and a singer who sounds legitimately fearful that her sanity could permanently slip away at the end of every tremblingly insecure lyric. It feels beyond disrespectful to call a masterpiece like Portishead’s Third a “comeback” album; it might even be more accurate to call their first two LPs “going away” albums instead. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

224. Phoenix, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix

(Glassnote, 2009)

Six years later and untrained ears still struggle to decipher Thomas Mars’ gleeful rambles — “Lisztomania” is a horn-squelching, ‘80s-swinging blast with a chorus easily misinterpreted as “Like a rhi- / Like a rhino!,” even though it’s actually about the 19th-century fan-frenzy for a popular concert pianist. Alas, c’est la vie: Phoenix’s greatest contribution to the canon thus far is their ability to blend polished sonics and glitzy popped-collar cool in a way that works for any mood and any speed. — BRENNAN CARLEY

223. The Roots, Rising Down

(Def Jam, 2008)

Anyone who politely wrote off Black Thought as a “rapper’s rapper” rehinged their jaw after “75 Bars (Black’s Reconstruction)”: “I’m in the field with the shield and the spear, nigga / I’m in your girl with her heels in the air, nigga.” Nasty synths replaced breezy Rhodes piano on the sheet-metal grind of “Get Busy,” and the Fela Kuti horns-and-skitter on the lean “I Will Not Apologize” has no neo-R&B in its groove. Sold souls, the Virginia Tech killer, and ethnic cleansing all make appearances — ?uestlove and his legendary ensemble have several finest hours but in the words of Spinal Tap, “none more black.” Or thoughtful. — DAN WEISS

222. Bikini Kill, Pussy Whipped

(Kill Rock Stars, 1994)

In just 24 minutes, Ms. Kathleen Hanna detonated a third-wave-feminist manifesto complete with hooks, jokes, and buzzsaw guitar. Guitarist Billy Karren supplied the skronk, rhythm section Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail set the pace, but it was Hanna channeling her Kathy Acker/Cindy Sherman obsessions into something unstoppable, raising a racket to better scream the unspoken. In the midst of reclaiming spaces both private and public, heavy queries were pondered: “Why can’t I ever get my sugar?” The answer lies somewhere within the radical possibilities of pleasure, which riot grrrls onstage and off- have been investigating ever since. — JASON GUBBELS

221. Snoop Doggy Dogg, Doggystle

(Death Row, 1993)

Dr. Dre might’ve invented the G-Funk era, but Snoop D-O-Double-G was its true leading man, a figure who slipped on the period’s ‘70s soul trappings like a silk chiffon robe, equally convincing (in his own words) handling things like a gentleman or getting into some gangsta s**t. Whether he was paying extended tribute to Slick Rick, hustling with the Dramatics or throwing hip-hop’s best party since Kurtis Blow, Doggystyle proved Snoop the next great rap superstar, and wannabe G’s have been using his style like a contraceptive ever since. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

220. Brad Paisley, American Saturday Night

(Sony Music Distribution/Arista, 2009)

Here’s where you find out exactly how far “Accidental Racist” caused the Nashville superstar to fall. From the ironic all-male singalong explaining that actually “It’s not who wears the pants / It’s who wears the skirt,” to the Obama endorsement titled “Welcome to the Future,” Paisley — in his charming, possibly naïve way — reimagines country as the melting pot that all the hipper genres get to be; and does so literally on the title tune, which celebrates Chinatown and Little Italy’s proximity. Good sense of direction this guy has. Even better falsetto and lead guitar. — DAN WEISS

219. System of a Down, Toxicity

(American/Sony Music Distribution, 2001)

These four Armenian-Americans from Los Angeles heard something in nü-metal that we didn’t, and with Rick Rubin’s help they made it a brick-hard canvas for thrash klezmer (“Needles”), beautifully harmonized folk melodies supporting Charles Manson’s pre-scumbag teachings (“ATWA”), and bullhorn protests against filling our jails with drug users (“Prison Song”). Of course, the breakout hit was titled “Chop Suey!” There will never be another band like them, metal or otherwise. — DAN WEISS

218. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Before Today

(4AD, 2010)

After spending a decade in lo-fi obscurity (and accidentally inventing chillwave), Ariel Pink — née Rosenberg — went bold for his 2010 breakout: remaking promising but crudely recorded highlights from his bedroom-conceived back catalog in a proper studio with a full band. The resulting, profile-raising document held true to its auteur’s filmic, lo-fi vision; Before Today stands as a comparatively cleaned-up reboot, but retains the aura of a heat-warped cassette, a long-lost classic oozing with soft-rock flourishes and bubbleslum brilliance. — KYLE MCGOVERN

217. Orbital, In Sides

(FFRR, 1996)

The forgotten masterpiece of the Big Beat era, In Sides unified countless disparate strands of ’90s electronic music — breakbeat, ambient house, IDM, just about any other techno subgenre with a name no one has spoken in two decades — into a symphony whose rapture was more consciousness-elevating than ass-moving. Even as instrumentals “The Box” and “Dwr Bdwr” made you more fearful for our planet than a liner notes-length Moby screed, album-closing two-part epic “Out There Somewhere?” was more likely to have you waving at our unseen neighbors in the night sky than Close Encounters of the Third Kind.ANDREW UNTERBERGER

216. Destroyer, Kaputt

(Merge, 2011)

This one’s for the romantics; for those seduced by wine-stained lyric sheets, overstuffed bookshelves, and savage nights at the opera; for those partial to stuttering synths, sincere trumpet and sax fills, and blue-gray color palettes; for those who fall hard when a dashing raconteur plays rogue and swears, “Baby, can’t you see they had it in for me? / They had it in for me”; for those who take pleasure in spotting leitmotifs; for those patient enough to wait nine albums for an artist to make his own ageless, front-to-back masterpiece; for those proud to have earned their heartache, and willing to risk more. — KYLE MCGOVERN

215. Spiritualized, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

(Dedicated/RMG, 1997)

Around the release of his 1997 epic, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce was wallowing in the wake of a heart-wrenching breakup and nursing what has become one of indie rock’s most famous (and most famously debilitating) drug habits. The despair looms most clearly on “Cop Shoot Cop,” the album’s 17-minute closer, which details a “hole in [his] arm where all the money goes.” There are all manner of Velvet Underground-gone-cosmic moments of overstuffed peace and light that precede it, but that extraterrestrial dirge underlines the feeling that this a record that hangs heavy — the sort of harrowing high you can’t easily forget. — COLIN JOYCE

214. Chance the Rapper, Acid Rap

(Self-Released, 2013)

As exciting a hip-hop breakthrough as we’ve seen in the ’10s, an album whose mix of artistic ambition, social awareness, and personal fallibility — delivered in an instantly singular drawl — was eerily reminiscent of another Chicago rapper’s arrival from a decade earlier. The craziest thing was that despite its laser-focus, smooth-rolling flow, and dudless track selection, really, Acid Rap wasn’t even an album proper, making you wonder if either Chance’s true debut LP is gonna be hip-hop’s Marquee Moon or if we should just retire the term “mixtape” forever.ANDREW UNTERBERGER

213. New Order, Brotherhood

(Qwest, 1986)

Until 2001’s guitar-filled retcon/reunion Get Ready, this less club-concerned effort was the original synth-pop Album Artists’ most uncharacteristically organic LP, with the strummy “All Day Long” building to an almost embarrassingly gorgeous symphonic finish, and “Way of Life” chilling in a wet breeze of psychedelia. “Every Little Counts” was their silliest song ever, and “Bizarre Love Triangle,” heard ‘round the world, was their finest. — DAN WEISS

212. Beach House, Teen Dream

(Sub Pop, 2010)

Blowing out the candlelit intimacy of their first two albums, Beach House bathed their exquisite dream-pop in wintry sunshine for Teen Dream, the Baltimore-bred duo’s third LP and Sub Pop debut. With an assist from producer Chris Coady (and no doubt inspired by the converted church where they recorded), singer-keyboardist Victoria Legrand and multi-instrumentalist Alex Scally leveled up in every way: They rolled back the reverb, allowing their never-better brew of chilly keyboards, lovesick guitars, and misty organs to ring through in hi-res, as Legrand’s all-seeing perspective and full-throated vocals enhanced the reverie. As comforting as a lighthouse in a hailstorm. — KYLE MCGOVERN

211. Aaliyah, One in a Million

(Blackground, 1996)

The album that saw Aaliyah emerge from the shadow of mentor/husband/violator R. Kelly — with the help of musical soulmates Timbaland and Missy Elliott — as Baby Girl, with a hard-earned maturity and world-weariness that made her seem wiser than divas twice her age. She didn’t cover up her scars — breakup ballads “Heartbroken” and “The One I Gave My Heart To” are devastating in their palpable sense of betrayal — but the Aaliyah of the slinky, taunting “If Your Girl Only Knew” and the intimate, interstellar title track was the Aaliyah we’ve come to know and truly love: cool but approachable, guarded but not jaded, and ever so funky. —ANDREW UNTERBERGER

210. The Mountain Goats, Tallahassee

(4AD, 2002)

The opening salvo of the rest of John Darnielle’s life. Sasha Frere-Jones dubbed him “America’s finest non-hip-hop lyricist,” a distinction that likely helped earn him bids to become the U.S. poet laureate. But the most frightening thing about the record that launched him to cult stardom is that it’s not a breakup album, but something much worse: the saddest stay-together album imaginable, in which the narrator compares his incompatible “Alpha Couple” to the trucks loaded down with weapons on the border between Greece and Albania. The cheeriest melody shows up to end the suffering cycle – with a premonition that they’ll decompose. — DAN WEISS

209. Fiona Apple, The Idler Wheel…

(Clean Slate/Epic, 2012)

Fiona Apple followed 2005’s Extraordinary Machine — and her subsequent self-inflicted hibernation — with a quavering piano-pop opus marked with surprisingly minimal production and the most open-veined honesty of her career. This newfound sparsity worked in Apple’s favor, particularly on the thunderous “Daredevil” (“Don’t let me ruin me / I may need a chaperone”) and the raw-to-the-point-of-bloody “Valentine” (“As you were watching someone else / I stared at you and cut myself”); as emboldened a comeback as we’re likely to see this decade. — RACHEL BRODSKY

208. Run the Jewels, Run the Jewels 2

(Mass Appeal, 2014)

For much of 2014, it looked as though there would be no meaningful hip-hop to spit truth to some of the tragic abuses of power that dominated the news cycle nationwide. Enter Run the Jewels 2. Armed with wickedly clever, bombastic, and righteously irate verses, Killer Mike and El-P — the most genuine dynamic duo working right now — fearlessly face down all of the world’s f**kboys and set a new gold standard for 21st-century protest music. “We killin’ them for freedom ‘cause they tortured us for boredom,” Mike declares over one of the record’s many heavy, waggish beats. “And even if some good ones die, f**k it, the Lord’ll sort ‘em.” — JAMES GREBEY

207. Deerhunter, Halcyon Digest

(4AD, 2010)

For worse and for better, Deerhunter mastermind Bradford Cox fancies himself alt-rock’s 21st-century messiah. Detractors might complain that the Georgia native is prone to self-pity — the breathy vocals, the lyrical bloodletting — but disciples could argue that on 2010’s Halcyon Digest, the frontman cedes the spotlight to an array of styles and inspirations. With his flagship project’s finest effort (so far), Cox sublimates death anxiety to host an 11-track séance: channeling the Jesus and Mary Chain (“Don’t Cry”), dusting off surf rock (“Revival”), invoking the Everly Brothers (“Basement Scene”), and memorializing the late garage-rock great Jay Reatard (“He Would Have Laughed”) — all in service of this album, a cobwebbed jukebox emitting a ghostly glow. — KYLE MCGOVERN

206. Sonic Youth, Sister

(SST, 1987)

The point at which Sonic Youth fashioned their no-wave installations into art-infected pop songs. On their fourth full-length, the avant tastemakers honed their discomfiting approach — pairing immediate hooks with carefully deployed dissonance — to illustrate an apocalyptic yet alluring vision of the Lower East Side, where talk of sex and death stands as the vernacular, ticking tension is answered with the proposition that we simply kill time, and the only hope of escape lies in an unsettling fantasy built around the Pacific Coast Highway. To be fair, though, SY MVP Kim Gordon did warn us of the wasteland’s pull: “There’s something in the air there / Makes you go insane / Brings you back to me.” — KYLE MCGOVERN

205. Mobb Deep, The Infamous

(Loud, 1995)

A deserving entry in the canon of New York City crime stories (musical or otherwise), Mobb Deep’s dour second album presents a gritty, ground-level view of the rain- and blood-soaked streets of Queensbridge. East Coast hip-hop caporegimes Prodigy and Havoc relate ultra-vivid tales of trife life — drug deals, fallen friends, time served, and the urge to drink away the pain, all depicted with a sharpshooter’s precision — over a foreboding soundtrack, an unyielding blend of bruising beats and darkly tuneful, trance-inducing jazz and soul slices. “I might crack a smile,” Prodigy intimidates, “but ain’t a damn thing funny.” No one said otherwise. — KYLE MCGOVERN

204. Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92

(R&S, 1992)

Everything about Richard D. James’ full-length debut is a feint, like the dates implying he began spending sleepless nights at age 14 programming on sequencers he built at age 11. Even “ambient” hardly describes much of what follows the dawning Chinese wind chimes of “Xtal” and subterranean burble of “Tha.” Instead, it’s acid synths here and Willy Wonka samples there, expert breakbeats before their time, and loads of charmingly rudimentary melodies that neither quite rave or lull. It would become known as his simplest, least flashy record, and some beat fiends would admit “poppiest,” mid-eyeroll. But it established electronic music’s hardest working trickster, who would go on to make countless recordings that share nothing with it but the creator. — DAN WEISS

203. D’Angelo, Brown Sugar

(Virgin, 1995)

Neo-soul’s moment was more bizspeak than organic development, but as New Jack faded, change was undoubtedly in the air. Multi-talent threat D’Angelo could play classic love man when the mood suited, crafting odes to both weed and the cherry in his chocolate-covered dreams. But while his gospel moves were less internalized than his rhythmic ones, he was nobody’s revivalist, camouflaging all manner of digital trickery in an organic ruse dank with hip-hop. And his soul wasn’t exactly neo-, either; see “Cruisin’,” both affectionate Smokey Robinson cover and quiet storm before impending voodoo funk. — JASON GUBBELS

202. Sleigh Bells, Treats

(Mom + Pop, 2010)

As long as there are tiny earbuds, cheap portable speakers, and low-res audio formats, Sleigh Bells’ debut will always have its own blown-out space. By mixing aggressive guitars, in-the-red production techniques, and brash cheerleader chants, this duo of ex-teenpop singer Alexis Krauss and ex-hardcore guitarist Derek Miller created an explosive, immediately recognizable style that worked as well over an iPod boombox as in the band’s lightshow live performances. As with other out-of-the-box sonic signatures from the Go! Team, Cults, and Purity Ring, Treats didn’t leave Sleigh Bells much room for refinement, but were nearly as successful going cleaner and more personal on 2012’s Reign of Terror, then slinkier and more R&B-accented on 2013’s Bitter Rivals. Batteries not included. — MARC HOGAN

201. Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles

(Epic, 1999)

Rage Against the Machine’s revolution-ready 1992 debut generated a blast zone so wide that it presaged the nü-metallic age of late-’90s modern-rock radio. But the West Coast agit-activists — known for aligning muscle riffs and left-field guitar-work with even further leftist fury and legit rap rhythms — were actually most focused, consistent, and alive on their third album. With ‘99’s The Battle of Los Angeles, Zach de la Rocha and Co. fired off a searing war cry that closed the casket on the 20th century with a megaphoned eulogy and a Defcon-One funk-metal salute. — KYLE MCGOVERN

200. Moby, Everything Is Wrong

(Elektra, 1995)

Whether he meant to or not — he swears he didn’t — Moby predicted the mp3 era with Everything Is Wrong, an album that confuses the senses, like four of the Melville descendant’s LPs stacked into the same playlist and shuffled on random. Ironically for a song cycle that often seems designed (and quite directly titled) to sound as jarring as possible, the real anarchy of Everything Is Wrong is how cohesive the whole thing feels when ingested in its entirety, a rollercoaster that twists and loops wildly around industrial, ambient, hi-NRG, and pop balladry without ever actually derailing, tied together with its creator’s hyperactive enthusiasm and gift for filtering punk energy and urgency into any conceivable genre. If Moby was Wrong, there must not have been much fun in being right. —ANDREW UNTERBERGER

199. Soundgarden, Superunkown

(A&M, 1994)

Nirvana and Pearl Jam both lumbered under differing ambitions that stretched well beyond the size of the arenas they were playing, but if all you wanted from ’90s alternative was headbanging to visceral righteousness thundered down from Mt. Olympus, Soundgarden was the Seattle band for you. The 16-track,70-minute Superunknown was essentially the Physical Graffiti of the Clinton era, as heavy as an album could get while still being unmistakably classic rock, and as musically expansive without seeming aimless or (overly) pretentious. The conventional narrative of grunge was that it showed up to make the hair-metal dinosaurs extinct, but with Chris Cornell’s shirtless antics and Kim Thayall’s volcanic riffing, Superunknown imagined a realm in which rock wasn’t such an either/or proposition. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

198. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois

(Asthmatic Kitty, 2005)

Shame that Sufjan Stevens never seriously pursued his staggeringly ambitious “Fifty States” project. The singer-songwriter’s obsessive 2003 exploration of Michigan‘s history — and his own experiences as a Detroit native — was both sweeping and intimate; even better was the follow-up, an expansive, orchestral masterpiece inspired by the Land of Lincoln. The baroque-folk troubadour might know enough obscure Illinois trivia to fill a dust-covered tome, but he used the cultural minutiae to tell soaring tales of promise offered by a big city (“Chicago”), examine the unconscionable evil lurking within us all (the unsettling “John Wayne Gacy Jr.”), and explore grief amidst a crisis of faith (the delicate “Casimir Pulaski Day”). High-concept but heartfelt, Illinois covers every facet of the human spirit — an inspiring endeavor, especially since Stevens refused to falter, even at those Willis Tower heights. — JAMES GREBEY

197. Lady Gaga, The Fame Monster

(Cherrytree/Interscope, 2009)

Three albums and a career’s worth of success under her meat-stained McQueen belt later, here’s present-day Lady Gaga, no longer at the pinnacle of pop health but still standing strong in the shadow of her eight-track magnum opus. In The Fame Monster’s wildest moments (“We might’ve f**ked / Not really sure / Don’t quite recall,” she relates with a straight face on “Monster”), the claw-curling star is laugh-out-loud funny. The stuttering “Dance in the Dark” slaps her unsubstantiated feud with Madonna upside the head with the fiercest spoken-word interlude since the Material Girl’s own “Vogue,” while the less outrageous “Speechless” proves that yes, even before her recent Sound of Music Oscars tribute, Lady Gaga’s always had proper, power-packed pipes. Be happy with the mini-masterpiece she offered up, and be thankful she’s moving forward. Anything less, as Madge would say, would be reductive. — BRENNAN CARLEY

196. Various Artists, C86

(Rough Trade/NME, 1986)

A cassette compilation that defined a sound: C86 was released by the NME to highlight an inventive form of shambling power-pop (heretofore known as jangle-pop), endorsed by legendary DJ John Peel. The 22-track collection highlights the U.K. acts that would go on to define the sound (Primal Scream, the Pastels, the Shop Assistants, the Servants and the Wedding Present) and inspire another generation of cardigan-clad sweethearts (Belle and Sebastian, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, any other act who critics can’t go a sentence describing without using the word “twee”). Here, pretty pop music was blessed with a new kind of indie cred. — MARIA SHERMAN

195. Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

(New West, 2008)

Drive-By Truckers aren’t just a three-guitar revivalist novelty, they have stories to tell; enough to fill a double album back when the cult band made their name on mail-order prizes. We now know the gruff raconteur Patterson Hood to be a national treasure, who aspired to marry Faulkner and Skynyrd in one triple-tracked swoop. His darkest fictions never have to reach past the newspaper: “Two Daughters and a Beautiful Wife” is titled after real-life murder victims, and kill-or-be-killed, business-as-usual “The Man I Shot” happens every damn day in wartime. The exasperated “The Righteous Path,” a list of familial priorities for two men of different class, and the self-effacing “Opening Act” hit even closer to home. — DAN WEISS

194. The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde

(Delicious Vinyl, 1992)

Listening to Bizarre Ride is pretty much exactly how the boho hip-hop artistes imagined it on the cover, twisting and flipping and flying through a funhouse in a rollercoaster car. Hailing from South Central Los Angeles, the Pharcyde offered technicolored lyrics, playful videos, and socially aware skits with their debut album, and thus painted a far different picture of their hometown than Dre and Snoop’s grim gangsta anthems, reminding the country that L.A. is the land of blue skies and sunshine. But don’t mistake levity for idiocy: As evinced on the whimsical “Otha Fish” and the rowdy “Ya Mama,” these class clowns can rap their asses off. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

193. Wilco, Summerteeth

(Warner Bros., 1999)

The imprint of the late Jay Bennett is all over Wilco’s third record, an album of elaborate studio creations burnished with zooming psychedelic synthesizers, carnival-twee percussion, and Beach Boys-esque harmonies and instrumentation. This surface sunniness is tempered by some of frontman Jeff Tweedy’s most philosophical lyrics — “Can you be where you want to be?” he muses on “When You Wake Up Feeling Old,” atop jazz cabaret piano and meandering organ — and sparse, bittersweet tunes that came “Via Chicago.” — ANNIE ZALESKI

192. Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

(Columbia/Ruffhouse, 1998)

Robert Christgau called Lauryn Hill’s solo debut the “P.C. record of the year” — which in 2015 might sound akin to #gamergate mansplaining, if he hadn’t largely been praising the thing. The former Fugees singer’s relative quiet over the past decade-plus, punctuated by such bluntly verbose bursts as 2014’s astounding “Black Rage (Sketch),” helps drive home The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’s singularness. It’s a sprawling, CD-era 77 minutes, but within is a stirringly sung, sharply rapped, gorgeously constructed neo-soul opus — about faith, love, and womanhood — that, “P.C.” or not, files nicely next to Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE and Beyoncé’s Beyoncé. At its best, as in the unhurried, intricate groove of D’Angelo duet “Nothing Even Matters” or on the radiant maternal ode “Zion,” Miseducation is a lesson on how the political is ultimately personal. — MARC HOGAN

191. Galaxie 500, On Fire

(Rough Trade, 1989)

Fond of reverb and few words, Galaxie 500’s smoldering On Fire might scan as unassuming on a cursory listen. The ten songs that compose the proto-slowcore greats’ second album more or less follow the same pattern — languid guitar streams spill out and take shape around frontman Dean Wareham’s key-tangoing yelps, bassist Naomi Yang and drummer Damon Krukowski maintain the pace without overstepping — but there are shades of vast ambition within this late-’80s artifact. An impressionistic song suite with a scope that feels simultaneously narrow and open-ended, Galaxie’s defining statement establishes its own landscape — one lined with decomposing trees, streaked with blue thunder, and prone to snowstorms — and its own gravitational pull. — KYLE MCGOVERN

190. Boredoms, Super æ

(Birdman, 1998)

Japan’s finest psych-noise collective don’t take it easy on first-timers: Super æ makes you grit your teeth through seven-plus-minute opener “Super You,” a devilishly caustic wind-up of shrieking tape hiss that openly dares you to lunge for the “stop” button. Pass that initiation ritual, though, and you’re treated to an hour’s worth of celestial cosmic slop that sounds like Ra, Thor, Xenu, and Hendrix getting loose at an impromptu interplanar jam sesh. “Super Going” brings enough rain to drown a small continent, “Super Shine” dances around a bonfire so big it can be viewed from the rings of Saturn, and “Super Good” drops you from the heavens directly into your childhood bedroom, where you wake up the next morning unsure of everything you’ve ever experienced before (but weirdly confident that reincarnation exists). — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

189. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell

(Interscope, 2003)

The debut full-length from beer-tossing New York art-punks the Yeah Yeah Yeahs arrived in the right place at the exact right time, spiking the short-lived New Rock Revolution with a sweat-slicked, shrieking showdown of yelping expletives, ragged guitar licks, and unintelligible babbles (i.e., “Pin”’s “bah bah bah bah bah! / dun dun dun dun!”). Fever to Tell left its strongest impression, though, when it slowed down to impart the shiveringly romantic “Maps,” a torch song that burned bright enough to illuminate the Manhattan skyline. — RACHEL BRODSKY

188. Nine Inch Nails, Pretty Hate Machine

(TVT, 1989)

In 2013, a mash-up of Pretty Hate Machine’s “Head Like a Hole” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s then-recent smash “Call Me Maybe” made the rounds. What might sound ridiculous in text turned out to be tellingly seamless in practice: Though Nine Inch Nails have always been categorized as industrial rock, the Trent Reznor-led band’s debut album is better heard as a descendant of the moody synth-pop of Depeche Mode or New Order. The darkness on Pretty Hate Machine lies in its lyrics, which Reznor delivers intensely enough that the adolescent grandiosity of God-questioning “Terrible Lie” or desperately longing “Something I Can Never Have” becomes — apropos of Reznor’s later venture into tech with Beats Music — a feature, not a bug. He would become more serious, more provocative… more Oscar-winning… but this is when we bowed down before the one we’d serve. — MARC HOGAN

187. Teenage Fanclub, Bandwagonesque

(Creation, 1991)

On breakthrough album Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub’s chiming melodies, heartwarming harmonies, and chaotic inventiveness — prefacing a perfect pop gem like “December” with the gleeful thrash of 82-second instrumental “Satan” — briefly put them at the epicenter of the U.K. indie boom of the early ‘90s. Defined by the chemistry of songwriting trio Gerard Love, Raymond McGinley, and Norman Blake, the Fannies made enough of an impression Stateside to be ranked by SPIN as superior to Nirvana’s Nevermind — and even earn a minor hit with their career apex, the crushing single “The Concept,” which soundtracked Charlize Theron nostalgia trips two decades later. Not bad for a couple of blokes from Bellshill. — MARIA SHERMAN

186. The Avalanches, Since I Left You

(Sire, 2000)

“Welcome to paradise,” a man’s voice says early on the Avalanches’ lone album, and Since I Left You is true bliss. From the title track’s world-discovering swoon to the cartoon drama of “Frontier Psychiatrist,” the Australian group achieved a dazzling, densely layered sonic fantasy, plundering from thousands of samples in a way that would presage mash-up albums and Girl Talk as well as such evident devotees as Air France, Washed Out, or Ford & Lopatin. Given such — heavy sigh — legally complicated source material, Since I Left You is also idyllic in the sense of its fleeting nature; a 2011 Zomba promo version is oh-so-slightly different than the official release, while a long-hinted Modular reissue never arrives. As for remaining Avalanches members Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi, if they ever release their often-rumored follow-up, it could be a nervously thrilling occasion to rival the return of D’Angelo. — MARC HOGAN

185. Jay Z, The Black Album

(Roc-A-Fella, 2003)

If only all farewells were so generous. As par for the Hova course, there’s bluster, physical threats, Turks and Caicos boasts. But game-proving masked a simple desire: “At least let me tell you why I’m this way,” which means he forgives his pop and invites his ma to the mic. And no retirement party has ever claimed such ill beats. Take your pick — Kanye spinning Max Romeo/John Holt, Timbaland brushing dirt off the shoulder, Rick Rubin flexing his rock box, album closer “My 1st Song” celebrating an artistic hunger so intense everybody knew he’d be back. — JASON GUBBELS

184. LCD Soundsystem, This Is Happening

(DFA/Virgin, 2010)

Amazing as the band’s 2011 goodbye show at Madison Square Garden was, no single performance could completely distill the disco-glitch brilliance of LCD Soundsystem’s final album. This Is Happening survives as the hyper-aware dance-floor crew’s most straightforward endeavor, a beaten-down coda after years of adulation that still serves as a call to arms (and legs) everywhere. “You Wanted a Hit” and “I Can Change” trade cynical lyricism with steely, ready-to-consume melodies, while “Drunk Girls” proves that Murphy hadn’t lost his sharp tongue (“Drunk boys keep in pace with the pedophiles / Drunk girls / Drunk girls are boringly wild”). As smart and satisfying a curtain call as any band could hope for. — BRENNAN CARLEY

183. Jimmy Eat World, Bleed American

(Dreamworks, 2001)

The sound of a great band shedding its myopia and indulging its inner rock geek. Overt lyrical references to everyone from the Beatles to They Might Be Giants to John Mellencamp to Mötley Crüe crash into guitar tricks cribbed from Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, and the whole pop-punk pantheon. The result is a wicked hook on every song, with endless shout-along potential, buttressed by rock music that just plain makes sense (read: all killer, no filler). Plus, who doesn’t need to hear “The Middle” every now and again? — CHRIS MARTINS

182. The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come

(Sire, 1987)

Though the Smiths had officially run aground by the time of their fourth album’s release, the quartet painted an exquisite picture with their swan song. Adorned with signature ditties (the darkly buoyant “Girlfriend in a Coma”) and fan favorites (the proudly fatalistic “Death of a Disco Dancer”), the ten-track button on a brilliant career closes with a maybe-ode to guitarist Johnny Marr from lifelong frenemy Morrissey (“I Won’t Share You”), a bittersweet endnote for the Mancs’ singular strain of magic and madness. “I do remember being immensely proud of the record,” bassist Andy Rourke tells SPIN. “I think we had matured so much since our early recordings. Listening to it today, not much has changed — it still makes me sad, and I’m still proud of what we achieved.” — RACHEL BRODSKY

181. Jeff Buckley, Grace

(Columbia, 1994)

Despite growing up in the shadow of experimental-folk figure Tim Buckley, son Jeff’s heart-bursting debut, Grace, quickly proved the scion a figure worthy of his own cult following. Combining strength and vulnerability, haunted production and dazzling guitar, late-night laments (“Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”) and light-of-day farewells (“Last Goodbye”), the late singer-songwriter’s lone proper LP survives as an impassioned testament, one that tragically never saw the follow-up it deserves. — RACHEL BRODSKY

180. Four Tet, Rounds

(Domino, 2003)

“Unspoken” is the theme song, not because of the rattlesnake tambourine fills but because the silent Kieran Hebden is content to play second fiddle to his own tinkly deconstructions. This has led to excellently hands-off, sparse production for notable collaborators as disparate as Neneh Cherry and Omar Souleyman. It’s also given the folktronica pioneer one of the most elegant catalogs in the history of the programmed beat. And when the man himself has a phrase, like say, “Spirit Fingers,” it’s swiped from Bring It On. — DAN WEISS

179. No Age, Everything in Between

(Sub Pop, 2010)

The rare punk album more about texture and composition than adrenaline and messaging — or the rare noise-rock album more about rhythm and melody than hypnosis and abrasion — Everything In Between stuns with craft and inscrutability. Unlike the Jesus and Mary Chain and most of the 25 years’ worth of distortion-pop bands that followed in their wake, there’s no separation in between the barbed wire and the kisses for No Age: They’ve been merged into the crackling riffs of “Fever Dreaming” and “Shred and Transcend,” the garbled grooves of “Skinned” and “Sorts,” until the original elements are totally indiscernible. The result is a singular album that finds the extreme in the middle, using its album title more as a rallying cry than a description. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

178. Black Star, Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star

(Rawkus, 1998)

One of the great rap one-offs and self-described “best alliance in hip-hop,” Brooklyn edition, Talib Kweli and Mos Def pooled their talents into a late-era Native Tongues project named for Marcus Garvey’s shipping line, which is of course perfect: black nationalism meets black entrepreneurship. Coltrane and Slick Rick receive tributes, ghettos decried as inner-city concentration camps, much love offered unto sisters — from Tanzanian beauties to Toni Morrison. And in between history lessons, they crack wise, i.e., rhyming “feminine” with “Danish rings by Entenmann’s.” — JASON GUBBELS

177. At the Drive-In, Relationship of Command

(Grand Royal/Virgin, 2000)

A monster of a rock record that spoke its own surreal language and slam-danced to a breakneck symphony of screaming guitars, this post-hardcore landmark rips to an absurd degree — 15 years later, it still hasn’t been outdone, by Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodríguez-López, those Sparta guys, or anyone else. Those sour melodies, that hysterical emotion, the rainy atmosphere, the Daliesque poetry, the Orwellian visions, and the bulldozing rhythms that blow a hole through the middle… Who even cares that Iggy Pop’s reading a ransom note on “Enfilade”? This s**t’s brutal magic. — CHRIS MARTINS

176. Primal Scream, Screamadelica

(Sire, 1991)

One of the least likely career reinventions in rock history, though perhaps not even the biggest about-face in Primal Scream’s peerlessly shapeshifting discography. The once-indie-pop Scots followed producer Andrew Weatherall — who set the band on their path to dance-floor Valhalla by turning blearly-eyed ballad “I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have” into the every-way-ecstatic rave-generation anthem “Loaded” — all the way down the acid-house rabbit hole, convincingly turning into psychedelic glowstick enthusiasts who lived the life they loved and loved the life they lived. It worked because they never totally lost touch with their previous roots in gospel-tinged, Stones-y Delta rock, with singles like “Movin’ on Up” and “Come Together” splitting the difference between the rapture of the church and the club, simultaneously serving as the Saturday night rager and the Sunday morning repentance. Like the ner tamid, the album’s light shines on nearly a quarter-century later. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

175. Ghostface Killah, Supreme Clientele

(Epic, 2000)

“Ayo this rap is like ziti, facing me real TV / Crash at high speeds, strawberry kiwi.” Anyone who claims to know what that means is a liar; it doesn’t matter what that line means. Ghostface smoked a wooly blunt, touched the unseen face of the infinite, and started rapping in fractals somewhere during the late-‘90s creation of his sophomore album, dashing his penchant for dramatic, involved storytelling into sparkly rubble, only to find that the wordplay was still pretty in miniature. If raps are portraits, this is a Monet. If they’re novels, this is Naked Lunch. — CRAIG JENKINS

174. Mastodon, Blood Mountain

(Reprise, 2006)

For seven years, Mastodon’s four-elements concept-album cycle took listeners on a mystical journey through forbidding terrain and legendary beasts. The aggression and complex arrangements of Remission and Leviathan, the fire- and water-themed portions of the set, were crucial in amassing a following for the Georgia outfit, but Reprise debut Blood Mountain arrived somehow beefier, quirkier, and hookier than the rest. The band sojourns through prog, psych, and jazz modes telling the story of a lone warrior’s precarious trek up a mountainside populated by terrible titans, striking a memorable balance between inscrutable sword-and-sorcery musings and accessible riffage in the process. — CRAIG JENKINS

173. Disclosure, Settle

(Cherrytree/Interscope, 2013)

Sam Smith might be a household name now, but it’s easy to forget that there was a time in which the young British powerhouse was a mere vessel shuttling Disclosure’s popping house-fizz across land and sea. On Settle, the fraternal flame starts to burn like never before under Howard and Guy Lawrence’s trigger-happy fingers. There’s no difficulty hearing the lads’ countless influences — Mary J. Blige, Fatboy Slim, Detroit techno — but most winningly, Disclosure turn in neatly tied parcels like “Latch” and “White Noise,” packed with a smooth combination of sultry soul and skittering beats. The rapidly diversifying direction Top 40 radio’s currently headed in? That’s on them. — BRENNAN CARLEY

172. tUnE-yArDs, w h o k i l l

(4AD, 2011)

It’s been established that the winner of the most surprising Pazz & Jop poll win in history annoys some people, and it’s about time. How long was someone going to be this in our face about privilege (“The worst thing about living a lie is just wondering when they’ll find out”), race (“What’s a boy to do if he’ll never be a gangsta?”) and the confluences of sex, brutality, and gender (“There is a freedom in violence that I don’t understand / And like I’ve never felt before”) before the distant admiration turned to questioning about her Connecticut upbringing?

The main thing is, no matter what Merrill Garbus can teach us about the world surrounding and what happens when one person’s toes step on another’s feet, her bullhorn voice and waywardly astounding songs will always be the greater contribution — nowhere moreso than on the celestial lust paean “Powa,” sung with the tense restraint of a true Erykah Badu fan (who also happens to play the ukulele and various pots and pans strung through a loop pedal). That she’s a great political artist is merely a bonus; she rocks us like a lullaby. — DAN WEISS

171. Blur, Parklife

(Food, 1994)

Like its iconic dog-track album cover, Parklife is a snapshot of a very specific moment in time, capturing a U.K. before the Gallaghers’ supremacy, in which Britpop was still about class commentary, sharp songwriting, and — perhaps most of all — nose-thumbing at Magic America. A grunge-wary Select Magazine may have declared “Yanks Go Home!” in 1993, but in 1994, Blur’s third LP positively screamed it, from the first synth squelches of the sublimely (and defiantly) Euro-trashy disco-pop smash “Girls & Boys” all the way through the closing “La la la la la!” pub chant-along of “Lot 105.” In between, us unwelcome Stars-and-Stripers got invaluable lessons in the sweeping gorgeousness of the English seaside (“Clover Over Dover”), the heartbreaking majesty of the shipping report (“This Is a Low”), and whatever the hell vorsprung durch technik is (“Parklife”), none of which we’re likely to forget anytime soon. Just ask Russell Brand. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

170. Lil Wayne, Da Drought 3

(Young Money, 2007)

Lil Wayne was “so motherf**king high I can eat a star.” The rap mixtape, as a format, was somewhere up there, too, and the nascent Young Money boss was part of the reason: His proper albums are more consistent, but unofficial releases like this one explain his feverish cult. Though 50 Cent had already shown the mixtape’s potential industry clout, and the likes of Dipset and Clipse had shown its artistic potential, Wayne’s delirious, smart-dumb free associations were especially suited to the format.

The prior year’s Dedication 2 had the New Orleans rapper’s Hurricane Katrina protest “Georgia…Bush,” but Da Drought 3 had more to say about Wayne’s incipient dominance. On “Upgrade U,” he brazenly upgrades Jay Z’s verse from the Beyoncé original. Elsewhere, lyrics predict the rise of everyone from “young Barack Obama” (in a verse from guest Juelz Santana) to “a chick named Nicki Minaj.” Mixtapes were about to lose their innocence all the more, in part helped by Wayne’s later Young Money signee Drake. And this former Hot Boy was about to go from eating stars to being one. — MARC HOGAN

169. The Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

(Virgin, 1995)

Billy Corgan’s ambition never met a roadblock it didn’t gleefully plow through, even in his present era of indulging eight-hour ambient performances and PAWS Chicago. But the Smashing Pumpkins’ 1995 double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, was a magical moment where every zany thing the overzealous frontman tried actually worked. The alt-rock titans touched on orchestral ballads, Sabbathian throwdowns, synth-pop, and everything in between in these 28 songs, the giddy glint in Billy’s eye acting as the sole theme and driving force. Mellon Collie’s easy sprawl is still a wonder today, a White Album for the flannel and Vans generation. — CRAIG JENKINS

168. Eminem, The Slim Shady LP

(Interscope, 1999)

Born from the smokestack-spat ash of Detroit but raised on the street-cobbled influence of rap’s grittiest names worldwide, Eminem has always known how to fire off shots, but on The Slim Shady LP, the rhythmic genius shattered perception and mapped out the twisted, sneering lyrical blueprint to his world of misery and rebellion. Why should Marshall Mathers allow himself to drown in the sorrow of being destitute when he could busy himself by yanking people’s eyelids open and ripping holes in curtains with a dull, demented pen? “Smoke weed, take pills, drop out of school, kill people and drink,” the self-loathing “Role Model” proclaims from his soapbox. “Jump behind the wheel like it was still legal.” Visceral gut-punches like “My Fault” and “Brain Damage” wear jokes like jewelry, but all it takes is an attentive ear to catch a torrent of pain and Motor City grit that had too long comprised his life, which would never be the same again once Slim Shady conquered America. — BRENNAN CARLEY

167. The Wrens, The Meadowlands

(Absolutely Kosher, 2003)

The album equivalent of a late-night Facebook message from a decades-old boyfriend: desperate to connect, stained with self-loathing, and a little too quick to insist, “I’ll be all right / Don’t worry ‘bout me!” For LP No. 3, the Wrens turned in a sad-bastard standard, a beaten-down but defiantly melodic song cycle that fixates on failed relationships, work-day drudgery, and the pervasive feeling that you’ve come in at the end, that the best is over. But bleak and worn-out as it may be, The Meadowlands deserves to be remembered as a triumph; the beleaguered but beloved follow-up to 1996’s Secaucus arrived several years after the New Jersey foursome were dropped from their label for refusing to kneel before radio. Out of that failure came a hard-won (and sweeter for it) success — hm, maybe that ex will be all right after all. — KYLE MCGOVERN

166. Run-DMC, Raising Hell

(Profile, 1986)

If the Hollis, Queens originals were merely Important — for y’know, inventing the rap album as we know it, as well as jerking the genre from disco’s glitzy claws entirely — then we wouldn’t be celebrating their third full-length. But Run and Darryl’s tag-team fury made for great bark-boasts; “Proud to Be Black” proved they cared about politics just as “You Be Illin'” documented their zaniness. And with the faux drum fills of “Perfection,” the nicked Knack riff, and, most famously, the retooled Aerosmith, their best album proved they loved rock’n’roll as much as Joan Jett. — DAN WEISS

165. Le Tigre, Le Tigre

(Mr. Lady, 1999)

Le Tigre’s eponymous debut comes out with guitars growling at the beginning of “Deceptacon,” a straight-ahead drive that belies riot grrrl emeritus Kathleen Hanna’s cheeky embrace of lyrics that are “dumb like a linoleum floor” (“More crackers, please!”). Her other project may take itself less seriously than Bikini Kill, but the masterful juxtaposition of the silly and the whip-smart on melodic listicle “Hot Topic” alone had already landed Hanna and bandmates Johanna Fateman and Sadie Benning in the company of Gertrude Stein, Billie Jean King, and other arts-and-intellectual heroines named in the song. Le Tigre by turns bites and purrs — “Eau d’Bedroom Dancing” sways like shy kids in the corner at a middle-school dance — but never loses its bouncy-castle beats and sense of f**k-it-all fun. — HARLEY BROWN

164. Janet Jackson, janet.

(Virgin, 1993)

The cover, a cropped photo of a topless Janet Jackson with her then-husband’s hands over her breasts, was no “wardrobe malfunction.” Michael’s younger sister had celebrated personal empowerment on 1986’s precocious Control and gotten conceptual about society on 1989’s landmark Rhythm Nation 1814, all while pioneering, with producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, the R&B, dance-pop, and hip-hop hybrid known as New Jack Swing.

It’s janet. — pointedly, “Janet, period” — that most informs contemporary pop, though, as Jackson (again abetted by Jam and Lewis) celebrates grown-up intimacy with an ambitious savvy to almost merit her then-unprecedented label payout. janet. made the tradition of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On safe for Britney Spears’ Blackout, with such a broad influence that it has recently been sampled by Kendrick Lamar and covered by singer-songwriter Natalie Prass. Jackson would continue to evolve, for a time; but if janet. can ultimately show up Justin Timberlake’s Super Bowl snafu, now that would be poetic justice. — MARC HOGAN

163. Spoon, Kill the Moonlight

(Merge, 2002)

On their fourth album (and second for indie label/career saviors Merge Records), Spoon showed how deftly they could build their signature yet endlessly versatile grooves around sticky phrasings as stark as the Austin desert. The pinched organ tics opening “Small Stakes” and loops of jagged, beat-boxed breathing on “Stay Don’t Go” strike just as hard as the memorably morose piano stabs on “The Way We Get By” that soundtracked The O.C.’s poolside teenage angst. Despite Kill the Moonlight’s ear-prickling percussion, it’s Britt Daniel’s disarmingly sweet lines — like “I will be there with you when you turn out the light” on “Paper Tiger” — that sneak in and stretch out. — HARLEY BROWN

162. Modest Mouse, The Lonesome Crowded West

(Up, 1997)

Crazed, wayward traveler carrying bitter, broken heart seeks understanding, companionship, and, if available, floor on which to crash. Ideal match has a fondness for toothy, jagged guitar riffs and patience for drunken outbursts; possesses big-city skepticism but not without sympathy for so-called “Trailer Trash”; won’t mind indulging circular conversations about God, the nature of time, and various compromises inherent to the American Dream; will be there in the morning to help ease the hangover. Bible-beaters and white-collar suckers need not respond. — KYLE MCGOVERN

161. Massive Attack, Mezzanine

(Virgin, 1998)

Here, Massive Attack’s trilogy of genre-defining electronic LPs was made complete. Although it certainly possessed a too-cool atmosphere carried over from the band’s previous landmarks (1991’s Blue Lines and 1994’s Protection), 1998’s radioactive Mezzanine came with ominous undercurrents, thanks to inner creative turmoil. Samples from the Cure, Led Zeppelin, and Ultravox added subtle aggression, while dank trip-hop beats and languid grooves created delicious rhythmic tension. Plus, the presence of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser — who contributed sighing vocals on “Teardrop” and “Black Milk” — cut through the fog with wistful, ethereal grace. — ANNIE ZALESKI

160. Oasis, Definitely Maybe

(Epic, 1994)

“I can’t tell you the way I feel / Because the way I feel is oh so new to me,” the Gallagher brothers harmonized on the chorus to “Columbia,” the unofficial first Oasis single. No matter: The Britpop demigods were always more about showing than telling anyway, and the impossible high of debut album Definitely Maybe was obvious from any shimmering guitar riff, any cymbal-heavy drum crash, any unnecessarily elongated “sheee-iiiiiine” enunciation. The rush of Oasis’ breakthrough was undeniable and unparalleled — even the Stone Roses actively recruited your adoration; Liam and Noel just declared themselves rock’n’roll stars, grabbed a pint, and waited for it to come true. That it didn’t take particularly long was as unsurprising then as it is now. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

159. The Postal Service, Give Up

(Sub Pop, 2003)

No, seriously, give up: These sentiments will never be navigated quite so deftly as they are here. Ben Gibbard and Dntel’s indietronic synth-pop vehicle skirts treacle, swerves at maudlin, and brakes for cheese, balancing the Death Cab dude’s milk-white voice against all that upbeat but tonally downcast beatwork. The warm melodies help the emotions stick, and the end result is either bleary-eyed bliss or heartbreak catharsis, depending on the listener’s relationship status. It’s hard to imagine this done better, which is probably why the duo hasn’t bothered to try. — CHRIS MARTINS

158. Erykah Badu, Mama’s Gun

(Motown, 2000)

From the stop/start funk-diss of “Booty” to the way Ms. Badu makes her $7 dress fly, this level-headed yin to D’Angelo’s Voodoo yang grounds interpersonal confusion and straight talk within a Soulquarian diaspora encompassing ?uestlove, Roys Hargrove and Ayers, and the dearly departed J Dilla. Her inimitable phrasing equal parts uptown jazz and lowdown smear, Badu’s verses shimmer with perfectly enunciated “r”s and slurred vowels, whether batting eyes at Stephen Marley or offering an elegy to Amadou Diallo. And three years after the no-bulls**t “Tyrone,” she follows up with additional sister-to-sister life advice: “Pack light.” — JASON GUBBELS

157. Yo La Tengo, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out

(Matador, 2000)

Coming off of the adored aural hodgepodge that was 1997’s I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, Yo La Tengo made themselves comfy on their ninth album, taking pleasure in maintaining a muted, nocturnal mood. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out fits in a few daylight detours (the shoegaze surge of “Cherry Chapstick,” the salty-sea breeze of “Madeline”) but the 77-minute LP is largely a twilit affair — though perhaps that’s a poor choice of words, considering the record follows the ebb and flow of a committed relationship: the jazz-brushed meet-cute detailed in “Our Way to Fall”; the exasperated state-of-the-union whispers in “The Crying Lot of G”; the slow, welcoming sweep of closer “Night Falls on Hoboken.” Ideal listening for admiring the fireflies with someone special. — KYLE MCGOVERN

156. Pistol Annies, Hell on Heels

(Columbia Nashville, 2011)

“Somebody has to set a bad example,” chirps three of country’s finest on this would-be one-off that was too good to waste. So they live in a trailer and drive a Cadillac, contemplate going off of the deep end and take pills instead of paying bills. Later they sell the trailer because it’s got some holes and dents “where [they] got tired of his s**t” and overdo it on squirrel gravy. At the time, it merely established that even Miranda Lambert’s pals — domestic insider Ashley Monroe and class-analyst Angaleena Presley — could hold their own with their generation’s standard bearer. Now it reveals itself as the most wry and lustrous old-fashioned singer-songwriting yet to appear in the 2010s. — DAN WEISS

155. Sunny Day Real Estate, Diary

(Sub Pop, 1994)

If only more emo frontmen made like Jeremy Enigk and asked “What’s wrong with me?,” as he prods again and again on “Round,” like a skull attacking drywall. Except that’s actually Sunny Day Real Estate’s resourceful, impassioned guitarist Dan Hoerner playing throaty Greek Chorus to his enigkmatic troubles, while we guess what the second-most-important Sub Pop band is trying to articulate via the singer’s faux-Brit screech. Like: is “Seven”‘s resounding “You’ll taste it in time” chorus for the bullies who will get what’s coming to them in mediocre adulthood, or their victims who eventually learn how to live? Sometimes English literally fails him, inspiring a name like “Pheurton Skeurto,” for a minor piano cabaret where we learn he pronounces it “fwhere-t?n.”

The control variables are the crushing guitar hooks, though future Foo Fighter Nate Mendel’s bass line on “In Circles” holds its room-swallowing own. The Run-DMC of male tears really turned out to have more in common with Radiohead and U2 than most of their bookish progeny as time went on. But everyone can feel the tug of “I wanted to be them / But instead destroyed myself,” ripping through the otherwise cloudy “Grendel.” Diary’s one of the all-time best-fitted titles – with all the cathartic sloppy handwriting and jagged moments of clarity it implies. And thereupon lies their greatest trick, which helped them reach so many microscenes in the dial-up era: channeling anguish into victory. – DAN WEISS

154. Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx

(Loud/RCA, 1995)

The first round of Wu-Tang Clan solo albums is an odd one because each release, by and large, features the exact same cast of characters as the group’s seminal debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), but no two of them sound much the same. Raekwon’s solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, sticks out because it’s essentially a gangster flick, full on the uncanny business savvy and lonesome paranoia that lifestyle entails. Its impact is unquestionable: Within a year, Nas, Biggie and Jay Z were all made men too. Within 20, these songs are still being quoted and sampled with a near-religious fervor. — CRAIG JENKINS

153. Pavement, Wowee Zowee

(Matador, 1995)

A sidestep from the near-success of 1994’s (college) radio-ready Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Pavement’s deliberately oddball third album collected 55 minutes’ worth of stray sonic fragments. Starting with the surreal, mid-tempo anti-album opener “We Dance” (first line: “There is no castration fear”), Wowee Zowee follows its own road map, careening from the frantic shrieks and faux-funk of “Brinx Job” to the heartbreaking power-balladry of “Grounded,” inventing its own logic of scattershot whimsy. Initially written off as a cop-out, the indie-rock princes’ confusing middle LP received pushback from shrug-prone slackers and even SPIN: “An album best enjoyed at a casual low volume, paying little attention to the effort and details,” we wrote back in ‘95. Yeah, that’s still kind of true, but everyone was paying too much attention in those days anyway; Pavement found something richer in staying out of the generation’s fight altogether.  — RACHEL BRODSKY

152. Tom Waits, Rain Dogs

(Island, 1985)

Tom Waits has lost his voice. Almost as much as yacht-rock’s smooth sailor Michael McDonald, the gruff gutter-diver of idiosyncratic Americana cultivated a singing style that now belongs to amateur impressionists all over the world. Grandpa, bourbon gargler, Cookie Monster — choose your comparison and someone has already used it. Bob Dylan recently invoked Waits when protesting criticisms of his own scratched pipes. Though Waits’ discography is formidable, from his early lounge balladry to the folksy songcraft of 1999’s Mule Variations, Rain Dogs best encapsulates that often imitated but never-bettered mode of expression.

With guitar work by Keith Richards and Marc Ribot, Waits’s second self-produced LP hones the irregular abstraction of its 1983 predecessor, Swordfishtrombones, achieving such subway-lurking transcendence that even Rod Stewart couldn’t spoil it. Rain Dogs is one step in a lineage from Captain Beefheart to Modest Mouse and Man Man, and such less obvious candidates as St. Vincent have also paid tribute. Waits’s own voice, though, is greatly missed: Now 65, he hasn’t released an album since 2011’s Bad As Me and, save for a one-off 2013 benefit concert, hasn’t played live since 2008. As he sings here, “It’s time, time, time.” — MARC HOGAN

151. Pixies, Bossanova

(Elektra, 1990)

Thanks to their bulletproof, four-for-four LP catalog, choosing a favorite Pixies album is a musical Sophie’s Choice, but for many, space-rock exploration Bossanova rises above the rest. A kinda-concept record featuring cleaner production, sturdier surf-rock hooks, and daydreamy, intergalactic imagery (“And when the planet hit the sun / I saw the face of Allison”), the Boston quartet’s third full-length brought them to new commercial heights, becoming the band’s highest charting album on both sides of the Atlantic while exposing their internal rifts — bassist Kim Deal shows up nowhere on the album’s songwriting credits, a detail that lent credence to claims that frontman Black Francis was edging her out. The Pixies’ star might’ve been headed for collapse, but Bossanova managed to send a shockwave through the alt-rock galaxy. — RACHEL BRODSKY

150. Cloud Nothings, Attack on Memory

(ADA/Carpark, 2012)

Cross-file under “mad as hell/not going to take it.” Cleveland’s Dylan Baldi was bored with his old sound (cheery bedroom power-pop), bummed out by his station in life (“I thought! I would! Be more! Than this!”), and burned badly by love (album-closer “Cut You” is a pretty disturbing listen). So he invited his touring band into the studio with him, devised a brutal new post-hardcore sound (Nirvana sparring with Fugazi?), and made an album whose very title references the erasure of the past. You can practically taste stomach acid bubbling up on this gloriously acrid set. — CHRIS MARTINS

149. Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker

(Bloodshot, 2000)

With the single twang of a harmonica, Ryan Adams sent a horde of city slickers galloping to thrift stores in search of Western shirts with pearl snaps. And who could blame them? With jaw-droppers like “Come Pick Me Up,” he led the ‘00s alt-country craze. And while that moment drifts further and further away, Adams’ angelic voice and tortured lyrics are still timely — largely because he speaks to the malaise of Millennials: “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)” deftly encapsulates the uneasiness of the mid-to-late twenties, the feeling that you should’ve figured all of this s**t out — your parents already had two kids when they were your age! Yet here you are, stumbling out of bars and through life. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

148. Sonic Youth, Goo

(DGC, 1990)

The follow-up to the much-loved Daydream Nation and Sonic Youth’s initial venture into — gasp! — major-label territory, Goo inspired new ideas that went beyond their previous mesmeric guitar panoramics (i.e., Kim Gordon monologuing as an anorexic Karen Carpenter in “Tunic,” then asking Public Enemy’s Chuck D “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?” in “Kool Thing”). With clean, subtle production courtesy of Nick Sansano and Ron Saint Germain, the static-punks pulled back from simply torching eardrums and delivered more radio-friendly (if still distortion-shrouded) tracks like the sacrilegious pounder “Mary-Christ” and the eerily shimmering “Dirty Boots.” If there was ever an underground group of noiseniks that could dictate the terms of switching to the majors, it’s the forever-cool Yoof. — RACHEL BRODSKY

147. Taylor Swift, Speak Now

(Big Machine, 2010)

Uncoincidentally, Taylor Swift’s best album was the one she wrote entirely on her own, without country vet Liz Rose’s influence ensuring her singles would ring out in Nashville or the hand of pop svengali Max Martin guiding her towards Top 40 majority ownership. Speak Now is pure, unadulterated Taylor: bidding for love, making dramatic entrances, declaring war, waxing nostalgic. And hey, turns out she’s one of the best songwriters of her generation — “Mine” is a small-town relationship narrative worthy of Bruce Springsteen, “Dear John” is bettered only by Jay Z’s “Takeover” among diss songs of the 21st century, and “Never Grow Up” is potent enough in its idyllic remembrances of youth to make the Artist Formerly Known as Cat Stevens sob uncontrollably. Now that Swift’s officially left country behind and has no pop worlds left to conquer, we can only hope she’ll consider returning to the days where all she needed was three chords and (her version of) the truth. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

146. Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2

(Sire, 1994)

Richard D. James is an affable enigma. Recalling his acid-house singles under various names in the early ’90s, the range of the mischievous and the sublime that characterized his name-making latter-’90s heyday, and the unexplained Soundcloud dumps that followed 2014’s Syro, the Aphex Twin mastermind has stood out as an electronic musician who creates myths as powerfully as tracks. Reclusiveness and relative anonymity have long since become clichés in the electronic realm, but James owns them, and he was never as beguilingly mysterious as on 1994’s Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2 — the songs don’t even have titles.

The sequel to 1992’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 is never as readily legible as its predecessor’s “Xtal” or “We are the Music Makers.” Instead, it’s a software-centered heir to Brian Eno’s ambient experiments, an immersive puzzle that rattles across the work of Radiohead, Björk, and Timbaland, as well as contemporary droners such as Oneohtrix Point Never or Emeralds, plus a host of movie scores. From the U.K. gearhead who recorded the EP series Analogue Bubblebath, here’s a rewardingly unsettling digital one. Lie back and keep the candles lit. — MARC HOGAN

145. Lucinda Williams, Lucinda Williams

(Koch, 1988)

The exuberant Ms. Williams wasn’t part of a movement; she had s**t to do with folksy late-’80s successes like Tracy Chapman or Suzanne Vega. Merely the greatest formalist of her time, she wrote like a smooth but loudly humming engine and sang like a gravel road. Her most songful album in a career of several got her covered by Tom Petty and a chart-bound Mary Chapin Carpenter but hangdog triumphs like “Price to Pay,” “Side of the Road” and “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad” were all her, and even on the sad ones she can’t contain her joy. — DAN WEISS

144. Pearl Jam, Vitalogy

(Epic, 1994)

A paranoid, Kafka-esque vision of a Pearl Jam album, in which Eddie Vedder wakes up one morning from unsettling dreams to find himself changed in his bed to a monstrous sellout. He rails against Ticketmaster as if it were the Third Reich, makes his love of vinyl sound like a technophobic rallying cry, and broadcasts his refusal to give the Prince of Darkness head vociferously enough to make you wonder if this was an act people once believed the frontman literally capable of performing.

The result is Pearl Jam’s most, well, vital album: one where the paragons of ’90s rock virtuosity actually get their hands a little dirty, unhinged enough to bookend the LP with “Last Exit” — their most frenzied punk scorcher to date — and “Hey Foxymophandlemama, That’s Me,” an inexplicable seven-minute sound collage. “THIS IS NOT FOR YOU!” Vedder declares on the album’s definitive track, and it was awesome how much he meant it. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

143. The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death

(Bad Boy, 1997)

With our protagonist dead at Cedars Sinai the month of release, it’s too easy fixating on this sprawling double’s paranoia or East/West beef absurdities. But mafiosi bleach in your eye only tells half the story. With Puff nudging gangsta towards pop respectability, Biggie goes from ashy to classy. He gives it up for leftover spaghetti, cracked crab, buttercrunch cookies. His R. Kelly-aided sex jam begs, “Please watch me do thee.” His grisliest tale ends with a towed Bentley. His karaoke roams off-key like Biz Markie’s. He rhymes, “Settle it / Metal s**t / Kettle get / Delegate.” — JASON GUBBELS

142. The National, Boxer

(Beggars Banquet, 2007)

No album captured the inevitable disaffection that comes with adulthood — and the realization that growing up doesn’t mean life is any less confusing — better than the National’s 2007 breakthrough, Boxer. Stuffy cubicle drudgery, romantic anxiety, and the loneliness of big-city living populate the band’s lyrics, while their red wine-and-a-stormy-night musical approach — all tense guitar strums, midnight-hued orchestras and Matt Berninger’s velvet-lined baritone — underscores this bittersweet (but beautiful) disillusionment. — ANNIE ZALESKI

141. The Afghan Whigs, Gentlemen

(Elektra, 1993)

The Afghan Whigs have never been afraid to embrace the ugly elements lurking within all of us. Case in point: the leering characters populating Gentlemen’s songs — from the title track’s substance-addled, unfaithful dude to the chastened winner in “Be Sweet,” who says, “Ladies, let me tell you about myself / I got a dick for a brain / And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you.” Musically, the Whigs perfected their unique alchemy of blackened soul and scabrous post-punk here, with frontman Greg Dulli’s sultry, sleazy, and sneering point of view leading the way into temptation. — ANNIE ZALESKI

140. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged in New York

(DGC, 1994)

In between the time Nirvana’s episode of MTV Unplugged showed on cable TV and the accompanying album saw release, Kurt Cobain was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted shotgun wound. Despite the ironically (or not, given the ’90s) corporate title, MTV Unplugged in New York was one hell of a farewell. The stripped-down setting and a set list that eschewed the show’s typical greatest-hits format meant it was the one Nirvana album that even Nirvana skeptics could love. Cobain’s ragged, searing vocal on the finale, a cover based on Leadbelly’s version of the traditional “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” conveys a deep-seated anguish that positions him in a pantheon more lasting than grunge. — MARC HOGAN

139. Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion

(Domino, 2009)

Dad-rock done right. After wooing critics and civilians alike with eccentric fireside chants and stardusted explorations of the soul, Animal Collective decided to head inside the home for their eighth album. True, 2007’s underappreciated Strawberry Jam introduced the suburban, but it was 2009’s swooned-over Merriweather Post Pavilion that saw pseudonym’d bandmates Panda Bear, Avey Tare, and Geologist settle into adulthood and face their oncoming 30s. Routines built around strollers and hitting the snooze button; the simple, lived-in romance of suggesting a partner wear a flattering dress; dealing with the death of a parent; the fundamental urge to provide for others — these had become primary concerns.

And there was tremendous progress musically, as well. The freeform-feeling acoustics and nocturnal ambiance that had dominated previous efforts? Replaced by ever-morphing electronics — swells and swirls of sparkling synths, generous helpings of bass, hiccupping beats — designed to loosen up stiff-legged, cross-armed indie-rock crowds. Despite all this grown-up talk, the plainspoken lyrics and largely joyous mood maintained the childlike wonder intrinsic to the Collective; Merriweather seamlessly merged the day-to-day with daydreams. Anyway, all of this was kind of a long-winded way of saying: Thanks for having us over, guys. — KYLE MCGOVERN

138. The Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me

(Sire, 1987)

If the ‘Mats had to honor a deal with the devil — or, in this case, Sire Records — at least they did so with grace. On their second major-label record (and first as a trio, following the dismissal of doomed guitarist Bob Stinson), the Replacements cleaned up real nice, enlisting producer Jim Dickinson to gussy their pockmarked, working-class rock with horns, strings, saxophones, and, on lesser-than bar fare “Shooting Dirty Pool,” breaking-glass sound effects. That misstep aside, frontman Paul Westerberg did his part, handing in some of his sharpest songs: the starry-eyed ode to a power-pop hero (“Alex Chilton”), the cocktail-jazz goof that bites (“Nightclub Jitters”), the road-weary closer that never disappoints (“Can’t Hardly Wait”), the small-time charmer that soothes like few others (“Skyway”). Like pa’s hand-me-down suit, they all fit so well. — KYLE MCGOVERN

137. Broken Social Scene, You Forgot It In People

(Paper Bag, 2002)

They were the biggest band of the indie explosion — literally. Before this album, BSS was two dudes making ambient post-rock, and Canada was Celine Dion country. But then Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning realized they were kinda boring and invited everyone they knew to join the band. The resulting 11-piece baroque-folk/pop-rock behemoth borrowed from Feist, Stars, Metric, Do Make Say Think, and more, and the sum of those parts is diverse and sprawling, yet consistently breezy and pretty. To call an album “pleasant” doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, but that’s exactly what it is — a viscerally languid, autumnally rich, fiercely sepia dream of a record. — CHRIS MARTINS

136. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

(Warner Bros., 2002)

Wayne Coyne isn’t distracted from pondering the big stuff (love, life, death) on the Lips’ tenth studio album, a futuristic concept LP starring a superhero tyke who fights a bunch of bright-colored AIs. The silver-haired frontman is at his best when lightening existential angst with sweetly innocent twinkles, synth backdrops, friendly acoustic strums, and his space-age Neil Young vocals — nowhere moreso than on the two-part “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” suite, the most entertaining grrrl power fairy tale of the aughts. Coyne’s worldview is filled with unanswered questions (“Are You a Hypnotist??”, “Do You Realize??”), but comes buoyed by lush psych-pop and an enormous amount of heart. — RACHEL BRODSKY

135. The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses

(Silvertone, 1989)

Despite changing the direction of U.K. guitar-pop upon its release in 1989, the Stone Roses’ debut album almost sounds like an exercise in rock classicism today — the universal melodies of the Beatles, the gorgeously ringing guitars of the Byrds, the cheeky (and quintessentially British) humor of the Smiths, the self-fulfilling arrogance of the Sex Pistols. But the mixture of such elements proved intoxicating and ultimately timeless, making the tingling blood-rush of “She Bangs the Drums” and the panoramic grandiosity of “Made of Stone” anthems for a new generation of Second-Coming aspirants — many of whom would come to define Britpop in the ’90s — while the euphoric closing groove of the “I Am the Resurrection” coda pointed to the indie-dance hybrid sound that would soon become the default of the British underground. The real message of the Stone Roses’ self-titled debut was the opposite of what it claimed: The past was theirs, but the future was yours. —ANDREW UNTERBERGER

134. Blink-182, Enema of the State

(MCA, 1999)

Pop music in 1999 was dominated by precious production that would carry the world through the beginning of the new millennium: boy bands and female teen-pop princesses. Pop-punk soon entered that space while mimicking it; the video for Blink-182’s biggest hit, “All The Small Things,” famously parodied just about every teen-friendly Top 40 act under the Orlando sun. For all the band’s prank phone-calling and dick jokes, though, Blink were able to co-exist with Britney and Backstreet on TRL because multi-platinum breakout LP Enema of the State was just as sticky and sweet as any Max Martin concoction, with sentimentally hooky anthems like “Going Away to College,” “Dumpweed,” and (of course) “Small Things” proving that Blink were really just the Beach Boys with faster tempos and far fewer clothes. For pre-millennial adolescents who couldn’t quite muster the anger and self-hatred to enlist in the Limp Bizkit army, Enema was an absolute godsend. — MARIA SHERMAN

133. Elliott Smith, XO

(Dreamworks, 1998)

An indie fixture like Elliott Smith could’ve easily cracked under the pressure of putting together a major-label debut, but the singer-songwriter rose to the occasion with XO, his lushest series of aching ballads. Accompanied by baroque string-swells (and bankrolled by Dreamworks), the late, troubled folk-punk — who died tragically in 2003 of an apparent suicide at age 34 — worked through destructive relationships (“Pitseleh”), “beautiful confusion,” (“Independence Day”), and chemical dependency (the sea of vodka invoked in “Baby Britain”). “I’m never gonna know you now,” Smith pledges on the exquisite “Waltz #2.” “But I’m gonna love you anyhow.” The feeling’s mutual. — RACHEL BRODSKY

132. Michael Jackson, Dangerous

(Epic, 1991)

What Michael Jackson understood about pop was that it’s really not a genre in and of itself but simply the cream of everything else that rose to the supposed top, at least in terms of hooky facility or tricky danceability and occasionally craftsmanship. This includes rock’n’roll, which only Lady Gaga of the current world-domination crop can be said to have interest in (unless Sky Ferreira or Charli XCX jettison the guitar and become Katy Perry/Beyoncé-sized megastars). So here’s what pop was like when it needed the rock vote: detuned stabs and thwips that became known as New Jack Swing, grunts and yelps and YEE-hee representing the futuresex/lovesounds of 1991, and, in the case of “Jam,” a synth-horn breakdown ripped straight out of Gravity Man’s level in Mega Man 5.

“In the Closet” proved he could do avant-R&B that took two minutes to creep toward the chorus, “Who Is It” and “Will You Be There” established that a secular entertainer could go gospel without turning to goop. Dangerous is primarily remembered for “Black and White,” a “Sweet Jane”-style riff interrupted by vacuum-laser bass and a rapper hired to espouse, “I’m not gonna spend my life being a color.” It was the Moonwalker’s last great album and his darkest, though the tragedies that soon followed were darker. But on the least twisted song he pleaded, “If you care enough for the living / Make a better place for you and for me,” and that was the other thing he loved about pop: the idea that it could make a musician change the world. — DAN WEISS

131. Sleater-Kinney, Dig Me Out

(Kill Rock Stars, 1997)

Olympia, Washington’s greatest rock trio has always been completely unafraid of making definitive statements, so I’ll do the same: Sleater-Kinney are the most important band of the post-Nirvana era. To track their rise to legend status, one must visit Dig Me Out, the punks’ third album and first masterpiece. In 1997, S-K managed to bulletproof their skinned-knee sonics with help from then-new drummer Janet Weiss, who injected a pronounced classic-rock influence in roiling riff missiles like “Not What You Want,” “Dig Me Out,” and “The Drama You’ve Been Craving.” But the more tender songs here are among the most famous, like the nine-to-five singalong stomp “Little Babies” and the crestfallen “One More Hour,” which leads with, you guessed it, drums. Listening to Sleater-Kinney may or may not make you a better person, but no one’s ever been worse off for it. — MARIA SHERMAN

130. Frank Ocean, channel ORANGE

(Def Jam, 2012)

Frank Ocean rose to prominence the way rappers do, showcasing wares on 2011’s nostalgia, ULTRA., a free mixtape of tracks recorded over well-known instrumentals. Nostalgia flaunted Frank’s writing smarts, but it wasn’t till 2012’s channel ORANGE that listeners got to see what he was capable of, full scale. ORANGE skittered through fleet chamber pop (“Sierra Leone,” “Pilot Jones”) and onto throwback soul (“Forrest Gump,” “Monks”), cresting on an epic about deadbeat boyfriends and Egyptian royalty and crashing fearlessly into an ode to a long-lost same-sex lover — all without ever losing a measure of sweetness or poise. — CRAIG JENKINS

129. Beyoncé, B’Day

(Columbia, 2006)

Suga mama rings the alarm, slips into her freakum dress, blows up urban radio with a country ballad. Queen Bey’s feminism would mature — on the occasion of her 25th birthday, specifics were mostly limited to paying one’s own way and doing one’s best to keep rivals out of chinchilla coats. But there was something sly about the way Bey utilized Betty Wright’s creaky 1968 “Girls Can’t Do What The Guys Do” on the proudly materialistic “Upgrade U,” in which a famous boyfriend is urged to stick around if he wants to go places. — JASON GUBBELS

128. Against Me!, New Wave

(Sire, 2007)

In 2007, almost half a decade before Laura Jane Grace would courageously come out as transgender, Tom Gabel and his band Against Me! introduced themselves to the wider world with their major-label debut, New Wave. Steered towards the mainstream by super-producer Butch Vig, the Gainesville punks nevertheless doubled-down on blunt honesty — Gabel even sings of wishing to be a girl named “Laura” on “The Ocean,” a revelation virtually no one paid attention to at the time. That they also maintained their urgency, spawning the most devastating singalong chorus (“No mother ever dreams that her daughter’s gonna grow up to be a junkie!”) heard on alt-rock radio in ‘07, made New Wave more than just a late-’00s mainstream crossover attempt, but the stuff of punk canons. — MARIA SHERMAN

127. Fiona Apple, When the Pawn…

(Clean Slate/Epic, 1999)

The provocative “Criminal” vaulted Fiona Apple into the national consciousness in 1997 as a singer-songwriter of uncommon transparency, but 1999’s When the Pawn… proved the gains of her debut Tidal were no beginner’s luck. Apple joined producer and multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion for a wry set of torch songs and kiss-offs that cycled through the strengths and frailties of cohabitation. For a distrustful lover: “You’re all I need… and maybe some faith would do you good.” For a dismissed one: “Only kisses on the cheek from now on, and in a little while we’ll only have to wave.” Hurt has rarely sounded this delicious. — CRAIG JENKINS

126. Guided By Voices, Alien Lanes

(Matador, 1995)

A dick-swinging, booze-chugging, chain-smoking, genuine rock’n’roll classic from a gang of British Invasion-loving burnouts, recorded on the cheap while the alt bubble swelled. Yeah, the songs rarely survive past the two-minute mark, but why pad out an already cluttered mess of laissez-faire one-offs? On this follow-up to lo-fi’s Rosetta Stone (1994’s genre-defining Bee Thousand), the obvious favorites — signature singles “Game of Pricks” and “My Valuable Hunting Knife” among them — play fast-and-loose with priceless hooks, but stretch them any further and you risk tainting their tape-damaged purity. Even the throwaways — particularly the shuddering, 18-second “Cigarette Tricks” — prove indispensable, crucial to Alien Lanes’ rough-cut aesthetic. Not quite as influential as its big brother, though every bit as inspired. — KYLE MCGOVERN

125. The Knife, Silent Shout

(Brille/Rabid/Mute, 2006)

An ’80s-neon pop song, “Heartbeats” — transformed into a pensive acoustic ballad by José González, then magnified by a TV commercial — and a still-relatively straightforward guest vocal on Röyksopp’s “What Else Is There?” did little to prepare wider audiences for the Knife’s third album. Silent Shout is too reliant on verse-chorus structures to be a techno album, too enamored of icy electronic textures to slot easily alongside its own year’s synth-pop, and, above all, immersed in a sense of looming dread.

The shifting upward or downward of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s vocal pitches only adds a further layer of alienation. And yet, despite — or perhaps because of — this left turn, the Knife sounded more visionary than ever (also, mordantly hilarious, as on “One Hit,” which refers to “Spending time with my family / Like the Corleones”). They’d veer still further from conventions on 2013’s massive Shaking the Habitual, only to call it quits late last year. As a duo between Andersson and her brother Olof Dreijer, though, the two will always be (gulp) family. — MARC HOGAN

124. PJ Harvey, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea

(Island, 2000)

Polly Jean Harvey — once a sucker for dark art-rock pleasures on 1992’s wrung-out Dry and 1993’s equally disruptive Rid of Me — goes for the guitar-pop jugular in her polished turn-of-the-century effort. Inspired by six months spent in New York City and another chunk of time in the English countryside, Harvey speaks to five-borough rooftops, concrete, hustling whores, whoring hustlers, and, in the ghostly Thom Yorke duet “This Mess We’re In,” an inevitable lovers’ separation. By funneling her oscillating emotions through the duel landscapes, Harvey forges her most well-rounded work, indicating real growth not just as an artist, but as a woman. — RACHEL BRODSKY

123. Madvillain, Madvillainy

(Stones Throw, 2004)

Take one metal-faced villain, one beat konducta, gobs of sticky green, and scores of rare grooves. Stir. Fry. Repeat. MF Doom and Madlib, erratic costumed rapper/producer oddballs from New York and L.A., respectively, united as Madvillain for 2004’s Madvillainy, a genius cross-pollination of seemingly divergent styles. The duo zeroed in on a common ground as Doom’s raps, curt and linear but patently absurd, sunk into Madlib’s diminutive but somehow infinitely stuffed grooves. The mindmeld is seamless and the jams timeless. — CRAIG JENKINS

122. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend

(XL, 2008)

As a consciously multi-culti, precocious blast of intensely styled sound set to an overarching Ivy League lyrical theme, this album should be the worst. In truth, it’s delightful. From the askew Polaroid on the cover (capturing blonde locks beneath an absurdly ornate Columbia University chandelier), to the part where Ezra Koenig rhymes “Colors of Benetton” with “reggaeton,” to the Afropop guitar duetting with a harpsichord on the lilting closer, this wildly assured debut offers a vivid collision of references that more than justify all the ado. Plus, f**k an Oxford comma for real. — CHRIS MARTINS

121. Kate Bush, Hounds of Love

(EMI, 1985)

Her soprano deepening as the Fairlight swirled, Bush the trailblazer continued exploring mental/emotional recesses while her (mostly male) art-rock contemporaries stuck with dystopian fallout. And while side two’s seven-part suite does get woolly — “peek-a-boo, little Earth”; four minutes of “Waking The Witch” — observers (mostly male, again) overemphasized her surrealism at the expense of her narrative gifts, unless you can think of another art-rocker who’d make a traumatized son the focal point of a Wilhelm Reich character sketch. Or one whose gauzy celebration of orgasm turns on a deal with God. — JASON GUBBELS

120. Miguel, Kaleidoscope Dream

(RCA, 2012)

Not every long-term relationship lacks passion. Three years and countless listens later, Miguel’s impeccably coiffed Kaleidoscope Dream entices at every turn: the steaminess of nouveau R&B standard “Adorn,” the sport-flirting and inky bass coursing through “Do You…,” the idealistic pillow talk shared in the woozy, keyboard-smooched closer “Candles in the Sun” (“I say we’re all created equal”). Go ahead, leave the title track’s narcotic loop on endless repeat — we won’t stray. “How many drinks would it take you to leave with me?” our perennial pursuer asks at one point. Check, please. — KYLE MCGOVERN

119. Built to Spill, Keep It Like a Secret

(Warner Bros., 1999)

In the span of five or so years, Boise, Idaho alt-bard Doug Martsch went from stringing together frayed guitar melodies and hyper-earnest hometown insights (1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love) to embracing studio sprawl for an absorbing, Mellotron-warped major-label debut (1997’s Perfect From Now On) to folding all of his ambition, longing, and curiosity into an effervescent and endlessly enjoyable pop record. Keep It Like a Secret synthesizes Martsch’s strengths — he may look like an everydude, but the man has an unparalleled knack for plainspoken philosophizing and sidewinding six-string heroics — into a dense but approachable career peak that’s rich in big-picture wisdom (“You’ve become what you thought was dumb / A fraction of the sum”) and sparkling production (every single one of its ten tracks, but dream-ballad “Else” might shine brightest). Repays close reads and casual listens alike, best not kept mum. — KYLE MCGOVERN

118. U2, The Joshua Tree

(Island, 1987)

It took U2 ten years to crack the United States, and they did it practically accidentally, it would seem, on a body of songs by turns fascinated and annoyed by Reagan’s America. The Joshua Tree is both a love letter to the vast plains and arid deserts that stretch out between the East and West Coasts and a criticism of what the Irish group found podunk about the towns and cities that peppered the landscape. Bono’s soaring yelp and the Edge’s hypnotic guitar work captured the spirit of the open road, though, knocking out hit after hit, mining a very deep-seated American wanderlust and feeding it into the very architecture of the songs. — CRAIG JENKINS

117. Primal Scream, XTRMNTR

(Astralwerks, 2000)

Primal Scream certainly like to keep people on their toes. Three years after the claustrophobic Vanishing Point, the U.K. shapeshifters unleashed the confrontational XTRMNTR, a series of strident political statements set to abrasive techno, scuzzy synth-rock, free-jazz skronk, and electronic distortion bombs. Not everything has aged well — the jittery, hip-hop-inspired “Pills” remains dodgy — but it’s hard to quibble with giants like “Accelerator,” a sneering proto-garage blast slathered with staticky noise. — ANNIE ZALESKI

116. Mary J. Blige, What’s the 411?

(MCA, 1992)

Her hip-hop moves less obvious after decades of fly girls following in her bootsteps, the street grit that was Blige’s breakout selling point now seems overhyped. Aside from some album-closing Grand Puba sass, she’s a model of New Jack restraint, requesting her lover to slow the strokes down while paying respects to Patrice Rushen and Chaka Khan. But those baseball caps and gangsta pants sure slammed the door on the supper club. Uptown rather than sanctified, her pop gifts culminate in “Real Love,” where she holds out for romance over block chords and a beat from Audio Two. — JASON GUBBELS

115. The Fugees, The Score

(Ruffhouse, 1996)

This was exactly what rap needed in ’96 — moral high-roaders who sounded tough instead of preachy, with the musical chops to do just about anything, but the taste to unite around a single, impeccably produced sound. The vocal-driven soul and reggae remakes (“Killing Me Softly,” “No Woman, No Cry”) are signposts to a list of classy influences that also clearly include Native Tongues, but these three carved out their own lane with a pro-black, anti-cop, pro-woman, anti-gangsta, pro-immigrant blade honed on sharp rhymes and solid beats. Worldly yet grounded. And, now, timeless. — CHRIS MARTINS

114. The xx, The xx

(XL/Young Turks, 2009)

It’s mind-blowing (and embarrassing) to consider how much poise The xx display on their debut album, which they wrote and recorded between the ages of 17 and 20. The trio emerged fully formed, borrowing from dream-pop, R&B, post-punk, and dubstep to create a stunningly sleek-yet-cozy sound where silence is as important as the throbbing beats, warm guitars, and nearly whispered vocals that give each song such resonance. Every duet plays like a conversation about love and loss between childhood friends (because it is), and every sound is exactly where it needs to be. — CHRIS MARTINS

113. Radiohead, The Bends

(Capitol, 1995)

Radiohead tried on many guises before settling on becoming an oracle for alien(ated) beings. On their John Leckie-produced second album, they were a supernova glam band with a penchant for fatalistic balladry (“Fake Plastic Trees”), burnt-out guitar hurricanes (“Planet Telex,” the title track), and arpeggiated Britpop anthems (“My Iron Lung”). They weren’t quite at OK Computer levels of pop deconstruction yet — but Thom Yorke’s skyscraping falsetto and the cryptic self-recriminations of “Just” underscore that they were well on their way. — ANNIE ZALESKI

112. Beastie Boys, Licensed to Ill

(Def Jam, 1986)

From the moment John Bonham staggers through the door courtesy of sonic reducer Rick Rubin, it’s “one for all and all for one.” Grasping hip-hop’s potential as horrible noise, Diamond/Horovitz/Yauch feel the beat….mmmm drop, deploying tag-team rhymes atop 808s and metal guitar, a junk culture celebration encompassing fizzy beer, Mr. Ed, and White Castle product placement. Wiseguys walking a parodic fine line (culminating in accidental frat-anthem “Fight For Your Right To Party”), the proud New Yorkers would soon swap out whore skeezin’ for mahjong boards. But model citizenry could wait — this here’s still the joint. — JASON GUBBELS

111. Amy Winehouse, Back to Black

(Universal, 2006)

Back before Duffy, Adele, Sam, and Meghan, there was Amy. For a while there, Ms. Winehouse had it all: the voice, the intriguing story, the lived-in grit, and the ace band and producer. Her 2006 release, Back to Black, flew in on a note of danger — “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” are an unapologetic warning about the singer’s wild ways, but hang in there long enough and a tenderness seeps in, rendering “Tears Dry on Their Own” and the title track every bit as lovelorn as the opening two-piece was forbidding. Ten years on, Amy, Mark Ronson, and the Dap-Kings’ devastating neo-girl-group smart bomb remains often imitated, never duplicated. — CRAIG JENKINS

110. Panda Bear, Person Pitch

(Paw Tracks, 2007)

Longstanding Animal Collective devotees may have already realized that Noah Lennox had a gift for creating multicolored dream coats of phantasmal beauty, but never had the scope of his vision been clearer than when distilled on his 2007 solo breakthrough, Person Pitch. Sure, the hazy transmission may have only featured seven songs, but what a prism of sound they evoked, through the one-man band’s tinny, warbling vocals, sugary soundscapes, and thoughtfully executed samples. Lennox’s warming to sun-dappled harmonies is a response to his Portugal expatriation, new marriage, and fatherhood — an assurance that life only gets lovelier with the passage of time.  — RACHEL BRODSKY

109. Tears for Fears, Songs From the Big Chair

(Mercury, 1985)

The creative leaps Tears For Fears made between their debut, 1983’s The Hurting, and their sophomore effort, 1985’s Songs From the Big Chair, were seismic. Gone was the band’s anguished introspection and foggy synth-pop; instead, the LP boasted an abundance of brash, contemporary-sounding rhythms and sleek sonics. Come for new-wave staples “Shout” and “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” — stay for the greatest cascading piano line of the ‘80s (“Head Over Heels”) and sax-aided keyboard noir (“The Working Hour”). — ANNIE ZALESKI

108. Jay Z, Reasonable Doubt

(Roc-A-Fella, 1996)

Jay Z could sell snow to a New Yorker in February, but he knew he was holding a superior product in his 1996 debut, Reasonable Doubt. Having amassed a decent amount of cash and a wealth of stories from his days as a crack dealer, Hova could’ve bankrolled the album on braggadocio alone. Jay’s the kingpin here, yes, but you don’t become the boss without leaving a few bodies in your wake — and at 26, he was mature enough to be vulnerable, to be conflicted over the life. Over expansive, Rat Pack-jazzy soundscapes from producers Ski, Clark Kent, and DJ Premier, he raps incisively not only about the hustle, but also its inevitable heartache. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

107. Paul Simon, Graceland

(Legacy, 1986)

Is there a greater comeback in all of rock’n’roll history? Rhymin’ Simon — cast off Art Garfunkel’s lollygagging whiteness after the ‘60s to explore the grooves of what would later somewhat dubiously become known as “world music” — then had a rocky early-’80s before returning with the deepest rhythms and the most invincible melodies of his career on 1986’s GracelandSimon cherry-picked the hooks from South African mbaqanga, with the title track all sprightly upbeats and bendy bass, and the euphoric horns in “You Can Call Me Al” rivaled that decade only by Buster Poindexter. “All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints” helpmates Los Lobos can attest that how much credit Simon gave his collaborators was dubious, which gets doubly ugly in a cultural appropriation debate. But Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Linda Ronstadt alike made this flawless collection sing. He gets by with a little help from his friends. — DAN WEISS

106. Dinosaur Jr., You’re Living All Over Me

(SST, 1987)

An all-time great dysfunctional group dynamic writ full-length. Before the lineup changes, breakup, and successful 21st-century reunion, Dinosaur Jr.’s sophomore LP found the original trio’s rhythm section — bassist/Sebadoh architect Lou Barlow and drummer Murph — intertwining at its then-most harmonious/ferocious, while notoriously close-mouthed guitar genius J Mascis smothered the fusion in mounds of feedback and histrionic solos, occasionally complementing the mix with his nasally bleats. Cannibalizing hardcore, metal, and classic rock, Living also underlined its assault with a melodic glow, making it a fascinating, festering tableau — a triumph from a band scratching itself apart. — KYLE MCGOVERN

105. Dr. Dre, The Chronic

(Death Row, 1992)

His group dissolved, his record deal crumbled, and his city burned in 1992, but Dr. Dre soldiered on, funneling frustrations from his split with N.W.A and Priority Records — and the still-simmering racial tensions kicked up in the L.A. riots — into a dense, ambitious solo debut. The Chronic embraced a lush funk Dre productions had once merely hinted at, as he and proteges Snoop Dogg, Daz, Kurupt, RBX, and the Lady of Rage affixed hardened hustler tales to the funk and soul classics that soundtracked their childhood, restructuring the very face of hip-hop music in the process. — CRAIG JENKINS

104. Kanye West, Late Registration

(Roc-A-Fella, 2005)

With Chicago and the world beyond serving as backdrop for his widescreen narratives, the rapper/producer/conductor enlists Jon Brion’s chamber-pop sophistication in a quest for space amidst A-listers. And an A-lister he became. Bumpin’ baroque on “Gone,” riding a disco-prog wave on “We Major,” tweaking Hank Crawford, looping Ray Charles — forget hip-hop, West’s sonic palette boasts a reach rare for pop, period. Then there’s Yeezy in all his antithetical glory, offering one of music’s most heartfelt mama tributes right after crafting a hit about weaseling out of child support. — JASON GUBBELS

103. Depeche Mode, Violator

(Mute, 1990)

When you can release “Policy of Truth” as the third single off of your album, you know you’re going good. A decade’s worth of momentum-building for Depeche Mode finally crested in ’90 with Violator, a worldwide chart-slayer that proved that the band had spent the “Music for the Masses” title one LP too early. The goth-pop magistrates’ biggest album was also their best, an immaculately produced, painstakingly paced set that found the ideal balance between the quartet’s dark wave majesty, their synth-pop accessibility, and their arena-rock largesse. The singles were the obvious highlights — by the time you’re done reading this blurb, another aspiring goth-rock purveyor or bedroom-pop producer will have tried in vain to make “Enjoy the Silence” interesting again — but don’t forget about the caterpillar creep of “Waiting for the Night” or the nightmare waltz of “Blue Dress,” either. The sweetest perfection, indeed. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

102. LL Cool J, Mama Said Knock You Out

(Def Jam, 1990)

If LL Cool J taught us anything, it’s that everybody loves a dude who doesn’t take himself too seriously (and that women love pillowy lips, licked slowly). But on his fourth, blistering album, LL ain’t playin’. With the blow-your-speakers-out cruising classic that opens Mama Said Knock You Out, the caffeinated “Jingling Baby,” and the smirking “6 Minutes of Pleasure,” it’s clear that Cool J and producer Marley Marl came to win. While the ‘roid-ridden title track is often cited as the album’s standout, the real TKO is the coquettish “Around the Way Girl,” which is still the highest compliment you can pay an ‘80s baby. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

101. Justin Timberlake, FutureSex/LoveSounds

(Jive, 2006)

As the story goes, the label was hesitant to release “SexyBack” as a single because they feared it’d be unrecognizable to the listening public as JT. That sounded good to him — he was into Prince, Arcade Fire, and Davids Bowie/Byrne at the time — and it worked for us too, tapping into nostalgia for the silly pop of yore while eliminating the guilt from our listening pleasure. The Purple funk, aughties gloss, jittery beats, and rock naïveté melded into an unpredictably enjoyable and experimental LP that allowed this boy-band refugee (with a lot of help from Timbaland) to outrun his past. — CHRIS MARTINS

100. Guided By Voices, Bee Thousand

(Scat, 1994)

Robert Pollard’s super-power lies in his ability to spew out all-thrills, no-frills lo-fi nuggets — like, nine hundred times over. In 1994, Guided By Voices dropped Bee Thousand, a wondrous indie artifact that continues to delight and confound. At its gold-star best, the 20-track album is absurdist and fun, artfully removed from college-rock hacks who’d still be trying to craft the perfect metaphor for youthful disillusionment while GBV cranked out five more 90-second gems about elf-kicking and hug-smothering. But the album’s handful of quasi-power ballads are just as impressive, tricking you into getting near-weepy over songs with titles like “A Big Fan of the Pig Pen” and “The Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen Directory.” All in a day’s work — literally, probably — for Dayton, Ohio’s finest.  — MARIA SHERMAN

99. TLC, CrazySexyCool

(LaFace, 1994)

When they say they want sex, you best believe they want sex, S-E-X. Draping their haute couture in condoms, slow-jamming with Babyface and André 3000, T-Boz, Left-Eye, and Chilli craft a pop-R&B masterclass in which men are deemed useful as objects to grind against. So “I won’t answer to you” follows “Let’s get wet tonight”; boasts like “I got a 48-track studio” bounce off of expert counsel like “Erase / Replace / Embrace new face.” They creep better than T. Yorke, drip with intent on “Red Light Special,” and lament blown chances and collapsed veins on the HIV-aware “Waterfalls.” — JASON GUBBELS

98. Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right to Children

(Warp, 1998)

Ambient whirlpools are rarely as evocative as they aim to be, so let’s give it up for titles like “Telephasic Workshop” and “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” (and, hint, “Smokes Quantity”) that fulfill every kaleidoscopic promise they harness into real earbud trips — in fact, the banner “Roygbiv” could use a few more colors to do proper justice to the interplanetary, cerulean piano ballad beneath. The pre-chillwave swooshes and sighs really do invoke nature documentaries past, and the initially scraping hip-hop beats and samples of children counting really do deepen along with the “melodies” over time. As with DJ Shadow, the one-minute snippets sometimes top the six-minute sprawls. Now say it with me, ready? Orange!DAN WEISS

97. Clipse, Hell Hath No Fury

(Zomba, 2006)

The titularly scorned, in this case, are the Thornton brothers. The Virginia duo was riding high on the success of 2002’s Lord Willin’, when label-merger drama delayed the release of a follow-up for a couple of years. In that time, the collective demeanor of Malice and Pusha T soured considerably, inspiring some of the most dead-eyed and paranoid coke-rap ever heard on the radio. Accordingly, the Neptunes turned in their bleakest, most minimal beats to date, using strange synth stabs, eerie harps, chopped steel drums, and all manner of off-kilter scraps to score the seething ire. — CHRIS MARTINS

96. Blur, 13

(Food/Virgin, 1999)

After a tense rivalry with erstwhile Britpop champions Oasis and a Stateside breakthrough (1997’s “Song 2”) so precipitous it threatened to brand them as one-hit wonders, London quartet Blur shook off their worries — and the earth too, deciding that space is the place on 1999’s 13. With renowned electronic producer William Orbit in tow, Blur ditched the kooky guitar rock of their beloved Parklife and The Great Escape for good, picking up liquid-metal guitar squelch, spectral atmospherics, and corrosive noise for a set that feels like a step ladder between Radiohead’s technophobic OK Computer and the cyborg lament Kid A. — CRAIG JENKINS

95. New Order, Low-Life

(Qwest, 1985)

By 1985, New Order had a definitive post-Joy Division identity and a bona fide hit song and album (respectively, “Blue Monday” and Power, Corruption & Lies). Perhaps that’s why their third studio LP, Low-Life, sounds so confident. Lead-off track “Love Vigilantes” is one of the band’s finest moments — a balance of corrugated guitars, airy keyboards, and sucker-punch lyrics about a soldier returning home from war — while the stereophonic synth-pop of “The Perfect Kiss,” the Cure-like “Sunrise,” and the pickled ambient electronica of “Elegia” remain indelible. — ANNIE ZALESKI

94. The White Stripes, White Blood Cells

(Sympathy for the Record Industry, 2001)

Turns out, Jack White had more guitar tricks up his color-coded sleeves than the neo-primitivist shtick let on, but this farewell to blues-rock towers over Jack and Meg’s garage-revivalist peers for two simple reasons: charisma plus tunes. Chivalrous and randy, chasing Holy Ghost terror with shiny tops and soda pops, the frontman was equal parts weirdo and classic-rock god in reserve, exactly the kind of Detroit-born Mondrian fanbrat who’d turn a minute-and-50-second Pixies rip into a hit single complete with accompanying Lego video. As for Meg, she bangs the drums. — JASON GUBBELS

93. Daft Punk, Homework

(Virgin, 1997)

In an age when Daft Punk is best known for Discovery and “Get Lucky,” it’s important to return to the droids’ equally essential debut LP Homework every now and again to be reminded of just how f**king mean the duo could be. There’s four-on-the-floor release to be had here, sure — “Around the World” and “Revolution 909″ are as throbbingly propulsive as any house classics of their era, if more than a little menacing in their subsonic creep — but the definitive single here is “Da Funk,” a growling monster-movie theme that cuts and stabs like Trent Reznor remixing “Another One Bites the Dust.” The real meat of Homework, though, comes with “Rollin’ & Scratchin'” and “Rock & Roll,” two eight-minute tracks that reimagine acid house as house music that sounds like it’s trying to burn you with literal acid: violent, corrosive, peerlessly enthralling. The robots are genial dance overlords in 2015, but they didn’t always come in peace: They’re called Daft Punk for a reason, you know. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

92. Missy Elliott, Supa Dupa Fly

(EastWest/Goldmind, 1997)

One of the greatest rappers to ever swagger across this earth, Missy Elliott made her defining artistic statement before her hit-studded sledgehammers Miss E… So Addictive and Under Construction shattered the charts in the next century. Every Supa Dupa Fly sliver retains its sharpness nearly two decades later because the innovating Misdemeanor — along with longtime creative partner (and show-stealer) Timbaland — made not just an unprecedented hip-hop album but also a tightly sealed, age-resistant time machine to the future. Synthetic-rubber beats, team-ups with superstars like Aaliyah (“Best Friends”) and Lil Kim (“Hit ‘Em Wit Da Hee”), and the shapeshifting MC’s bear-trap raps — “My style is supa dupa fly and yours is so so / You see me on the videos / And then you want to go and play me on the stereo” — cinch it. Missy’s debut LP soars, and the tongue-trilling titan continues to snatch Super Bowl spotlights and command stadiums. Count her out at your own risk: she’s the restless warrior always punching up and leaping above perception. — BRENNAN CARLEY

91. Miranda Lambert, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

(Columbia, 2007)

The reason Miranda Lambert scanned as feminist well before bro country led to an onslaught of quality sis antidotes isn’t because her greatest album leads with the Janie’s-got-a-Marlin-336XLR rewrite “Gunpowder & Lead.” It’s because she owns every situation she assumes a character in, from the unreliable charm of the title tune’s stalker, to the confused hussy of “Guilty in Here” who hilariously wonders, “What became of all the boys who only want one thing?” A former reality show contestant now married to a current reality show judge, Lambert inherited Dolly Parton’s tuneful smarts and AC/DC’s arena-flattening guitar whomp. Deep down she knows that not every “last one Route 1 rural heart’s got a story to tell.” This one does. — DAN WEISS

90. J Dilla, Donuts

(Stones Throw, 2006)

James Yancey’s final artistic pseudonym still comes up so often in interviews, beat credits, and reissues that newcomers might understandably assume he’s still alive. As Jay Dee, he’d already built a substantial legacy, both as a member of Detroit’s Slum Village and as a producer for the likes of Janet Jackson, Q-Tip, and De La Soul (and later, Erykah Badu, Common, and Madlib). Still, it’s Donuts — released only three days before his death at 32, and largely recorded in a hospital room— that stands as his most cohesive statement, its heady, emotionally resonant, and unpredictable hip-hop instrumentals inspiring disciples from Panda Bear to Ty Dolla $ign. If you leave it on repeat, it’s as if Dilla is immortal. — MARC HOGAN

89. Madonna, Like a Prayer

(Sire, 1989)

The controversy surrounding Like A Prayer’s title track overshadowed the fact that the album solidified Madonna’s evolution from pop tartlet to savvy adult artist. Working with longtime collaborator Patrick Leonard, Madge teamed up with Prince (!), made bold feminist statements (“Express Yourself”), and took a benevolent view of an imperfect dad (“Oh Father”) — all while dabbling in shiny funk, girl-group pop, and sweeping, orchestral ballads. — ANNIE ZALESKI

88. TV on the Radio, Return to Cookie Mountain

(4AD, 2006)

What sort of band would use its shiny new major label as a platform to release one of the most adventurous albums of the decade? The same sort who’d score a David Bowie cameo, then bury Ziggy in the mix with the rest of the howling voices and quaking guitars on “Province.” Sex, art, Dubya, drugs, urban blight, bigotry, love, and, yes, lycanthropy were all subsumed in kind. This dizzy, lurching, art-drunk monolith of an LP is the congealed distillate of an incredible band peaking hard. — CHRIS MARTINS

87. Genius/GZA, Liquid Swords

(Altered Ego/Geffen, 1995)

“I’m on a mission that niggas say is impossible / But when I swing my sword, they all choppable.” It’s tempting to just quote line after line of this album (I sat behind a kid in high school history who’d try to rap the entire thing under his breath most days), but that would be a disservice to the bigger picture. The Genius drops great bars, but also spins a helluva yarn, narrating New York street life with an omniscient eye for detail and a deadpan delivery that weaves in and out of RZA’s grimy, economically deployed loops. The power of this set is evident in the guest performances: Every member of the Wu appears, but all tailor their approach to fit the brooding tone. — CHRIS MARTINS

86. Pixies, Surfer Rosa

(4AD, 1988)

Surfer Rosa may live fast — burning through 33 minutes of Frank Black’s feral yowls and yelps, Kim Deal’s sweet howls and crackling bass, and guitarist Joey Santiago’s frenetic fretwork — but it will never die, despite the trail of various mutilated body parts left behind in the lyrics. Yet it’s not even the album’s stunning levels of blood and sex that remains its most subversive legacy; it’s the timeless pop-song structures craftily concealed within the abrasive noise and seemingly random studio banter, like Deal’s murmurings about “rumors he was into field hockey players” on spastic burnout “I’m Amazed.”

Album opener “Bone Machine” slashed a path through the thicket for the unforgettable one-word chorus of “Gigantic,” and the iconic muted voices and surging guitars on “Where Is My Mind?” Rosa recording engineer Steve Albini later knocked his calling card as “blandly entertaining college rock,” but for a mere $1,000 he helped the Pixies pound out a sleeper debut certified gold years after the records it influenced — namely Nirvana’s Nevermind — achieved the same status. That they managed to sustain their careers (and crowds) for a decade’s worth of reunion tours only affirms their debut’s everlasting power to rip our eardrums apart and put them back together. — HARLEY BROWN

85. Arcade Fire, Funeral

(Merge, 2004)

And the bluster begins with an ending — several, actually. A spate of family deaths affecting the Canuck band inspired Win Butler and his crew to think long and hard on mortality. Their conclusion: The reaper is real, so the best way to live is to stare that f**ker in his sockets and beat your chest like a feral child. They’ve been doing that ever since, and shouting louder all the while, but Funeral is plenty brave. In a snow-buried town, the adults are useless but the kids could be all right if only they’d listen to Win: Dig out! Stay awake! Learn to drive! Those are metaphors, duh, but it’s their meanings’ slow reveal that makes this LP about loss so unexpectedly heartening. — CHRIS MARTINS

84. A Tribe Called QuestMidnight Marauders

(Jive, 1993)

“The word ‘maraud’ means to loot. In this case, we maraud for ears.” A Tribe Called Quest’s third album, Midnight Marauders, pushed the Queens trio’s smart jazz-rap into a darkly vibrant song cycle narrated by a robot tour guide. The sprightly funk of landmark early releases like The Low End Theory remained, but Marauders brought drowsier, weirder grooves to Q-Tip and Phife Dawg’s sharp, whimsical stories of the city, for one of hip-hop’s moonlit headphone masterpieces. — CRAIG JENKINS

83. Japandroids, Celebration Rock

(Polyvinyl, 2012)

Replacements devotees of the 21st century who had to wait decades for their own generation’s bonfire to begin were finally rewarded for their patience with Celebration Rock, eight perpetually fist-raised salutes to being young and restless and hopelessly in love with your best friends. Titles and hooks that seem cartoonishly preposterous out of context — “The House That Heaven Built,” sure; “Fire’s Highway,” why not; “For the Love of Ivy,” didn’t even write that one — land with Clash-like urgency here, the guitar riffs entering your bloodstream, the drums raising you to Valhalla. To give Japandroids the Only Band That Matters status in 2012 would imply there was anyone really challenging them for said designation; their only real competition was themselves — that, and the nagging tendency of time to erode passion. Needless to say, the boys won anyway. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

82. Tricky, Maxinquaye

(Island, 1995)

With a fantastic sonic vocabulary tasked to evoke stoned consensual sex that still feels wrong, Tricky named an album after his mother that contains such lines as “I’ll f**k you in the ass / Just for a laugh,” fed to a late-teens Martina Topley-Bird — along with a steady diet of weed, of course. He reinterpreted Public Enemy’s most vivid moment, “Black Steel” as phantasmagoric garage rock, sampled the Smashing Pumpkins, and collaged some of the most beautiful non-non-Western percussion into a ravaged industrial landscape, one where a song called “Strugglin” actually shows instead of telling: the clicks of an uncertain gun, gallows-infested blues bends. If there’s a way out, Tricky doesn’t want to know. Lana Del Rey should cite him as Exhibit A the next time she argues for the beauty of depression. — DAN WEISS

81. Weezer, Pinkerton

(Geffen, 1996)

If The Blue Album represents Weezer’s alt-rock rise, then the Madame Butterfly-referencing Pinkerton is the post-party hangover. Diverting from their Spike Jonze-assisted brand of friendly self-deprecation, frontman Rivers Cuomo shifted to full self-flagellation mode on the band’s sophomore record: coping with sexual fatigue, crushes who’ve never heard of Green Day, and doomed infatuations with lesbians and Japanese teens, and wondering aloud, “Why bother?” Each outpouring was underpinned by more sweetly geeky guitar crunch, but with a shambolic, nervy edge that showed how the band had begun to fray in their two years as unlikely rock stars. In 2001, Cuomo called the darkly diaristic LP “just a sick album, sick in a diseased sort of way… honestly, I never want to play those songs again.” But even with its auteur treating Pinkerton like a naked-at-school dream, legions of socially anxious musicians have been trying to match that emotional bareness ever since. — RACHEL BRODSKY

80. Bikini Kill, The Singles

(Kill Rock Stars, 1998)

A punk pamphlet: nine songs in 17 minutes, released after these pissbombs already broke up, the first third personally blessed by Joan Jett herself producing, the final act kissed with the coolly debauched intro “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe / I do, I do, I do, I do.” The inflammable Kathleen Hanna could never actually write an “Anti-Pleasure Dissertation”; that title just shows her indefatigable appetite for skewering not just her oppressors but her own subcultural sticks-in-the-mud, years before Portlandia. And when she names a song “I Hate Danger” it’s because she wants to demystify punk, do something useful with it. She did both and made it catchy, too. — DAN WEISS

79. Oasis, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?

(Epic, 1995)

In the same way that actors who hate each other in real life have the most chemistry onscreen, the Gallagher brothers’ tumultuous relationship equaled pure magic on wax. Add Noel’s gorgeous melodies and nonsensical lyrics to Liam’s petulant, sneering delivery, and the Oasis sound came a hair’s breadth away from the influences they so proudly and punkishly shoved into rock purists’ faces. Soaring from the sweet thump of “She’s Electric” to the psychedelic grandeur of “Champagne Supernova,” there’s not a skippable track on What’s the Story (Morning Glory)? Though the brothers’ relationship broke down and the group disbanded, the jangling strum that opens “Wonderwall” can still spark a barroom sing-along. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

78. Frank Ocean, nostalgia, ULTRA.

(Self-Released, 2011)

Break out the PBR if you must, but the opening salvo from this soulful surrealist is much more than a woozy outcropping of R&B’s trending toward darker, heady fare. This “mixtape” is the work of a true auteur (those Stanley Kubrick references aren’t accidental) whose distaste for genre dividers is matched by an ear for unlikely aural affinity (his voice rewriting songs by Coldplay, the Eagles, and MGMT) and an inimitable lyrical perspective that gathers social commentary, romantic entanglement, literary fancy, and diaristic musing into one great gust carrying the scent of what’s to come. — CHRIS MARTINS

77. Slayer, Reign in Blood

(American, 1986)

The starter pistol fires with leadoff track “Angel of Death,” and there’s nary a second’s breath wasted in the half-hour sprint to the final storm of “Raining Blood.” What still amazes about Reign in Blood nearly 30 years later isn’t just that it sounds louder, gorier, and more vital than so much contemporary metal, but that it runs lean enough to make a Ramones album sound bloated and pretentious in comparison, just shooting straight hellfire for ten tracks. (Being bookended with the most iconic album opener and the most iconic album closer in all of thrash doesn’t hurt, either.) It’s as important to metal history as the guy who invented the circle-inscribed pentagram, but more critically, it’s just a fun listen, in a way that rock fans who wouldn’t know Mayhem from Monster Magnet can appreciate. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

76. The Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream

(Virgin, 1993)

In a sea of slacker apathists and flannel-clad mopes, Billy Corgan marched unafraid into perfectionist megalomania. The do-everything frontman was so hell-bent on making a flawless record that he practically took up residence in Triclops Studios to complete it, shattering relationships with his marginalized bandmates in the process. While the Great Pumpkin may have suffered a nervous breakdown as a result, his dedication won out: There are few album openers more successful than the riff-sparking “Cherub Rock,” the metal-inflected “Quiet” is ironically pulverizing, the delicate “Today” was practically commissioned for college radio (which in ‘93 was also just “radio”), and “Disarm” makes good on its name with echoing gongs and dynamic violin harmonies. If Corgan could will it, it was no dream. — RACHEL BRODSKY

75. Yo La Tengo, I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One

(Matador, 1997)

Over the course of their nearly three decade-long career, each of Yo La Tengo’s sweet euphorias has taken on a dazed but distinct character. Ride the Tiger is prickly and unnerving; Painful is plodding and considered; And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out watery and domestic. The trio’s 1997 splatter painting, I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One, is a triumph not because its scattershot identity was more refined than what came before, but because the Hoboken band managed to follow all of its disparate impulses at the same time. Ira, Georgia, and James dive between slowly burbling organ jams (“Autumn Sweater”), in-the-red Beach Boys covers (“Little Honda”), meandering krautrock excursions (“Spec Bebop”), and brittle indie-pop (“Stockholm Syndrome”). And yet, despite the stylistic hopscotch, it all retains YLT’s unique fragility and innocence. The title suggests biorhythmic unity and the songs evoke discord, a sonic suggestion that maybe you can be everything all at once. — COLIN JOYCE

74. N.W.A., Straight Outta Compton

(Priority, 1988)

N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton was by no means the first gangsta rap album (Schoolly D and Ice-T beat ‘em to the scene) but it might be the loudest. The union of Eazy-E’s bratty hooligan angst, Ice Cube’s street smart world-weariness, and Dr. Dre’s booming baritone and studio know-how burned hot and fast on this Left Coast classic. Dre’s raw funk helped give Cali a sound its East Coast counterparts couldn’t lay claim to, and Compton’s effortless marriage of goon glory and prescient social commentary set the tone for decades of street rap to come. — CRAIG JENKINS

73. The Breeders, Last Splash

(4AD/Elektra, 1993)

Last Splash was the sound of Kim Deal whispering open sesame to the rock mainstream, and finally gaining long-overdue credit and success. The first Breeders album, 1990’s Pod, was great, if a tad monochromatic in its Steve Albini-helmed jaggedness, but Last Splash was as vividly colored as the strawberry heart on its cover, an album full of “Gignatic”-sized pop songs and “Silver”-hued curios. It’s the balance of those two sides of Deal’s musical personality that makes Splash such a romp, with distorted lullaby “Mad Lucas” and surf-rock instrumental “Flipside” proving as integral to the album’s character as alt-rock summertime perennial “Cannonball” and power-pop gem “Do You Love Me Now?” The best Pixies albums were more consistent song-for-song, but can’t help but seem stiff and borderline-didactic in comparison — imagine how much fun Bossanova would’ve been with a rollicking folk-country cover and an unnecessary “Happening” reprise filling out the back end.— ANDREW UNTERBERGER

72. The Cure, Disintegration

(Elektra, 1989)

The Cure could never concoct a groove hellish enough to drown singer Robert Smith’s natural pop smarts; even sneaky gestures like chasing Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me’s tar-pit bleak “If Only Tonight We Could Sleep” with the spastic defib “Why Can’t I Be You?” floated unexpectedly. Disillusionment with growing fame sent Smith to drugs and to the studio for 1989’s Disintegration, a startlingly cohesive marriage of the harrowing, aqueous dirges of the band’s Pornography era and their concurrent run of non-album new-wave singles. Grim but also deceptively sticky, Disintegration harnesses all the savage, disorienting beauty of a winter whiteout. — CRAIG JENKINS

71. Aphex Twin, Richard D. James Album

(Sire, 1996)

Richard D. James Album is “about” James’ childhood — more bulls**t from a huckster whose ability to lie to journalists rivals Tom Waits. But the sound actually corroborates it: slide whistles and crib-mobile percussion on “Logon Rock Witch,” magnetic video-game poetry on “Carn Marth,” and all manner of unidentifiable mercury-through-a-crazy-straw histrionics on the Autechre-esque “Peek 824545201.” Blissful and surprising orchestral arrangements buoy “Goon Gumpas,” “Girl/Boy Song,” and possible career peak “4” — this is where the playfulness in Aphex Twin’s auditory arsenal was finally matched by his signal-jammed melodies, squelch for squelch. And should you choose to believe the aforementioned tall tale, the toyish nursery aura is meant to be a heartfelt tribute to his, yes, twin brother who died during birth, also named Richard James because only one was predicted to survive. If not, you’re still free to giggle/facepalm at the first-grade boobies joke that is “Milkman.” — DAN WEISS

70. Fugazi, Repeater

(Dischord, 1990)

Hardcore is birthed from oppression. In America, it’s the densely populated major cities, the deserts between socioeconomic classes, the injustices found between people of differing political agendas. In Washington, D.C., Fugazi managed to bring light to tyranny in few words, without ever becoming a parody of themselves, something easier said than done in an insular, DIY community. The Ian MacKaye-led foursome assumed their mantle of big-business conscientious objectors with Repeater, their first and most fully realized record, thrashing through proto-Tyler Durden sloganeering shout-alongs (“YOU ARE NOT WHAT YOU OWWW-WWWN!”) and funky post-punk instrumentals (Brendan Canty and Joe Lally, represent!). The lyrics to foreboding album opener “Turnover” speak to the rest of the LP’s principal concern: “Something’s wrong and it’s bubbling under.” The solution? Listen and find out. — MARIA SHERMAN

69. Björk, Post

(Elektra, 1995)

The Icelandic auteur’s last great dance with pop, Post finds Björk with one foot in the mainstream and the other wildly kicking every which way so long as it’s in the left field. It’s a wonderful album with so many disparate highlights: the big-band wilding of “It’s Oh So Quiet,” the industrial skronk of “Army of Me,” the entrancing collage of “Headphones,” the lush menace of “Hyperballad,” the manic dance of “I Miss You,” and the crystalline sulk of “Possibly Maybe.” Her fearless plunge into styles is matched by the aplomb with which she bares her anxieties and aspirations. — CHRIS MARTINS

68. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

(Warner Bros., 1999)

After diving into the acid-addled psych-rock deep with Zaireeka, which required the simultaneous play of four different CDs, Wayne Coyne stood up and he said, “Yeah!” The Okie and his astronauts (including producer Dave Fridmann) at last fully embraced listenability and wound up discovering a cosmic, symphonic sound. This colossal mind-expander also marks the birth of Coyne as spiritual Sherpa, as he explores the infinitude/ephemerality of life and love with a humanistic bent and a winking eye trained on death. It’s a beautiful truth bomb, possibly the softest bullet ever shot. — CHRIS MARTINS

67. Robyn, Body Talk

(Cherrytree/Konichiwa, 2010)

Pop nerds will remember Robyn’s first crack at music with 1997’s R&B-edged Robyn Is Here, but once her first act wound down in the States, the Swedish chanteuse appeared fated to be another forgotten late-’90s Euro flirtation (see: Aqua and B*Witched). And yet, once she left Jive Records in 2004, Robyn mounted a stealthy comeback that crested with this 15-song meteor of electro-pop missives. Layering on slick, synth-stacked beats, Body Talk at once explores the good-and-bad catharsis of facing the floor partnerless (“Dancing on My Own”), attempting to keep sex casual (“Hang With Me”), bluntly coping with a love triangle (“Call Your Girlfriend”), and steeling yourself against love’s injustices (“Indestructible”). She might be the unsinkable Dancehall Queen, but Robyn taught us that fembots have feelings, too. — RACHEL BRODSKY

66. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale

(Def Jam, 2006)

Anyone else who writes in the same shadowy realm as Tony Starks can be bought in a university bookstore, though you’d be still be hard-pressed to find a literary antecedent for stray garbles like “The big one had the centipede stab wound,” or “Once you got the funds you got the panties, man,” or “Some of y’alls’ nose hairs is burnt” in between lucid boasts like “Rip they guts out like a hysterectomy,” and “I’m James Bond in the octagon with two razors.” He chokes out the dingy details on frantic opener “Shakey Dog” so fast you’d swear there’s a 911 operator on the other end of the conversation; gripped enough by the narrative to not notice the lack of chorus. That’s quickly remedied by the femmes cooing, “A kilo is a thousand grams / Easy to remember” on the wah-wacked next song, and the feral guitar solo that caps each measure on Just Blaze’s greatest non-Jay Z production. Fishscale only grows more abstract, soulful and hard-boiled, not to mention waggish, when he longs for the days when kids got beat (“Whip You With a Strap”), while dreaming of “mermaids with Halle Berry haircuts” and Spongebob in a Bentley Coupe (“Underwater”). Rarely have such unrelenting music and lyrics entangled for supremacy like the squid and the whale. When the worst track is the bonus with an undead Biggie verse you are indeed the champ. — DAN WEISS

65. Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister

(Matador, 1996)

Though this is the Scottish band’s second album, it was most people’s introduction to Stuart Murdoch and his characters, and it took only 41 minutes to feel intimately acquainted with both. Him: a student of Morrissey and Donovan with a voice so fey he often sounds like a feminized Nico. Them: figments of his imagination illustrated so vividly, with such transparent moods and motivations, as to come alive in every song. There are cranky oldsters and children on bicycles, sure, but most are teens confused about sex or religion (both if you’re Hilary). The gentle music is similarly composed — just a skosh baroque, a wee bit folksy, and precious as all get-out. — CHRIS MARTINS

64. The Chemical Brothers, Dig Your Own Hole

(Astralwerks, 1997)

For a minute there in the mid-‘90s, Big Beat was the new stadium rock, and Dig Your Own Hole was its Dark Side of the Moon. Of course, the Chemical Brothers’ sophomore LP was similarly mind-expanding in its sonics — “Setting Sun” still sounds like the apocalypse hitting Times Square at New Year’s, the flame-bursting climax of “It Doesn’t Matter” reduces every modern dubstep producer to a half-stepper at best, and “The Private Psychedelic Reel”… OK, that one might scan as a little crusty these days, but c’mon, that sitar. The true classic-rock DNA of Dig, though, can be found in its slavish devotion to structure and pacing, flowing like the most expertly crafted DJ opera, every dramatic pullback and seismic swoop occurring exactly as it should. That college students aren’t habitually getting stoned to it as we speak… well, Tom and End haven’t even had their big Coachella comeback yet. There’s still plenty of time for the kids to get lost in the Chems’ K-hole once more. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

63. Drake, Take Care

(Cash Money/Universal, 2011)

“Please do not speak to me like I’m that Drake from four years ago,” Drizzy admonishes on this year’s chart-crowding If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. “I’m at a higher place.” There’s no denying that Toronto’s favorite son has risen to a rarified plane of cultural ubiquity — a feat managed (not just) on the strength of 2013’s slow-chilled Nothing Was the Same, a hall-of-fame run of non-album singles, and the shadowy LP-masking-as-mixtape If You’re Reading This — but the Drake from four years ago is the driven, introspective young man responsible for Take Care, Aubrey Graham’s to-date apex in the full-length format, fit for crying all night or drinking all summer.

The then-25-year-old rapper/singer — still primarily thought of as a child-actor-turned-MC — came into his own with his sophomore studio album: expanding and thickening his sonic palette for a moody, after-dark confessional that draws on meditative piano (“Over My Dead Body”), strobe-lit synths (“Headlines”), minimal guitar (the Jamie xx-produced title track), and smoke-choked ambiance. Enabled and repulsed by his appetites, Drake fully inhabits his role as the drunk-dialing voice of a generation, cites Hugh Hefner and Michael Jordan as his only role models, then thanks his ever-supportive mother and uncle for making it all possible. He calls on Rihanna, Kendrick Lamar, and André 3000 for guest appearances, and invites Lil Wayne to his re-bar mitzvah. But perhaps most impressive is this: Considering the hot streak he’s enjoyed these past few years, it’s entirely plausible that this career-making record is one Drake will someday eclipse. — KYLE MCGOVERN

62. Eric B. & Rakim, Paid in Full

(4th & Broadway, 1987)

Without Rakim, a lot of your favorite rappers wouldn’t exist. And without Eric B. and Paid in Full, a lot of your favorite rappers’ albums wouldn’t exist, either. Rakim revolutionized rap by introducing internal rhyme, and Eric B. dipped deeply into funked-up samples, setting a critical precedent in hip-hop production. The R also marked a departure from the standard rap persona: Projecting an aura of unhurried, absolute alpha-dog cool through his flow and stage presence, he was hypnotizing, not hyperactive, and he preferred not to smile (when a debut opens with a song titled, “I Ain’t No Joke,” what do you expect?). Didn’t matter. With laser precision, Rakim wrote the blueprint. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

61. Portishead, Dummy

(Go! Discs, 1994)

Beth Gibbons’ voice harked back to the blues and Geoff Barrow’s production choices evoked film noir, but together they (and Adrian Utley, lest we forget) redefined the cutting edge of modern sound, a place where hip-hop’s methods were mingling with angsty alt-everything songwriting. Like many of the other debuts on this list, Dummy projected a realized vision, an aesthetic complete, that’s inspired an endless run of imitators. But this was a sound only these Bristolians would perfect, by swirling soul samples, whirring organ, surging strings, and searing vocals into a timeless churn. — CHRIS MARTINS

60. Vampire Weekend, Modern Vampires of the City

(XL, 2013)

“Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?” Ezra Koenig croons on the hookiest song of his career, though there’s plenty of competition, including the reference-bulked “Canon in D” rip that follows it. But “Unbelievers” is where the R.E.M. to Arcade Fire’s U2 discards “Upper West Side Soweto” and focuses on being the great American rock band, complete with John Philip Sousa-for-pennywhistle breakdown. These changes are meant to evoke a largesse of ambition and a focusing of mind. No more clean-line soukous guitar or clicking ska beats — this album’s about heaviness: slamming pitch-shifted rockabilly (“Diane Young”), tongue-twisting gospel (“Worship You”), and the most cerebral song by indie-rock squares since “Once in a Lifetime”: “Ya Hey,” where Koenig asks God, “Who could ever live that way?” after the Lord won’t even say his own name. The musician fancies the big guy a DJ, who segues Desmond Dekker into the Rolling Stones. Wouldn’t you? — DAN WEISS

59. Kanye West, The College Dropout

(Roc-A-Fella, 2004)

Kanye’s Dropout clearly intertwines the roots of the interstellar narrative he’s since crafted with its hard-fought Chicago origins, it’s equal parts about the producer-turned-rapper’s come-up (“Last year shoppin my demo, I was tryin’ to shine / Every motherf**ker told me that I couldn’t rhyme”) and the insecurities that come from trying to scrap for your stardom. “All Falls Down” remains the greatest guitar-driven rap song of the century (sorry to “Lose Yourself”), “Jesus Walks” commands silence in arenas still, and “Through the Wire” outshines its own easily dismissible-as-a-gimmick premise (“They can’t stop me from rapping, can they? I spit it through the wire, man”) thanks to its sterling pitched-up production (thanks Chaka!) and Jeromey-romey-romey-rome hashtag rhyming (“There’s been an accident like GEICO / They thought I was burned up like Pepsi did Michael”). He’s since become a bleary-eyed genius in search of his next innovation, but on Dropout, he was just a kid, doing his best to make his mother proud. — BRENNAN CARLEY

58. Sleater-Kinney, The Woods

(Sub Pop, 2005)

It seemed for a while that The Woods might have been the end for Sleater-Kinney. After a decade’s worth of thorny, recoiling rock records that owed equal debts to fuzzy art rock and, uh, Springsteen, the trio of Pacific Northwest punks topped every effort they’d made before and then vanished — as if this brilliantly fizzy, aural amphetamine rush would require another decade of repose to recover from. Album opener “The Fox” quickly erupts into one of most furiously blown-out tracks the band has ever released, but The Woods remains a revelation because the punk heroes indulged in a number of wildly divergent impulses their previous work had only hinted at. Freewheeling guitar solos throughout indulge the classic-rock influences that their early career cover of “More Than a Feeling” pointed toward, while blown-out production pushes them ever closer to the tuff gnarls of their more distortion-happy contemporaries. They’re back now and engaging in that sort of stylistic tension once again, but if Sleater-Kinney had decided to decline a second act, The Woods would have been the perfect send-off for a varied and inflammatory career in rock. For the moment they went out with a clatter and a bang, with The Woods not as a cherry, but as a cherry bomb on top of all that preceded it.  — COLIN JOYCE

57. Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction

(Geffen, 1987)

The “metal” in glam metal began to dribble out on a succession of faceless rock guys’ increasingly tender, increasingly successful pop gestures as the ‘80s beat on past the halfway mark, but Guns N’ Roses burned through the network like cleansing fire. Formed when refugees from hard-rock upstarts L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose blended into a joint venture, GNR released its debut Appetite for Destruction in 1987. Appetite lived up to its name, chronicling the cheap thrills and pitfalls of fast living in a sprawling, uncaring city.

“Sweet Child o’ Mine” deftly showcased lead guitarist Slash’s scorching solos and ace riff construction, singer Axl Rose’s pitted depth and range, and the rhythm section’s turn-on-a-dime suspension as it careened from a sun-drenched ballad into something akin to terror. Cuts like “Welcome to the Jungle,” “It’s So Easy,” and “Mr. Brownstone” explored the savage hook and tug of the hard drugs that threatened to tear the band and their scene apart. The quintet looked and sounded like a physical manifestation of Los Angeles’ seedy underbelly, the grime beneath the glitz of the Sunset Strip grown sentient. — CRAIG JENKINS

56. Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III

(Motown/Cash Money, 2008)

Lil Wayne ushered in the era of rap albums not needing to be “about” anything, which has had its drawbacks, but his stone(r) classic isn’t one of them because it resurrected the art of what used to be called rhymin’ for the sake of riddlin’. Carter III talks a little about how indefatigable Mr. Carter is of course, but it also talks about how he’s an alien, how he’s got money, how he’s a doctor who performs surgery on wack MCs, and how he really f**ks the police. “A Milli” isn’t about a million dollars, it’s about looping the bluntest rhythmic device to underscore his flow and dexterity and how many ways a linguist can bend a syllable to his gap-toothed whims. “Let the Beat Build” is “about” how a great Kanye West beat needn’t try and improve on a faultless perpetual motion machine of a two-bar soul sample. And if you can score a Japanese edition that replaces weakest-in-show “Playing With Fire” with the epic “Pussy Monster,” pair it with the congenial-blowjob No. 1 fluke “Lollipop” and you’ll understand why he’s the most gynephilic rapper alive. — DAN WEISS

55. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Psychocandy

(Blanco y Negro, 1985)

The Jesus and Mary Chain’s debut album arrived the same year as the New Coke, and its basic formula could have been no longer lasting. Psychocandy pairs sweet melodies from the gentler side of ’60s pop with shrill feedback, stomping drums, and cavernous reverb. On slower-paced songs such as “Cut Dead,” it’s not far from the jangling indie-pop drummer Bobby Gillespie would sing with the earliest incarnation of his band Primal Scream, as captured a year later on the influential C86 compilation. But the JAMC’s exploration of the possibilities of noise would lead the way for shoegaze and go on to more directly influence a whole generation of worthy bands, from the Raveonettes and A Place to Bury Strangers to the Manhattan Love Suicides. It doesn’t hurt that LP opener “Just Like Honey” is a near-perfect execution of the Phil Spector-meets-noise concept. That crucial nod from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation? And ensuing Coachella collaboration with Scarlett Johansson? From their earliest, famously brief shows, the brothers Reid had always acted like big rock stars, so why not let them enjoy the overdue recognition? — MARC HOGAN

54. Janet Jackson, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

(A&M, 1989)

Forget Michael, let’s talk about his baby sister — oops, the all-grown-up Miss Jackson. Sexy and self-assured and socially conscious, Janet’s fourth album is jaw-dropping in the sheer number of hit singles it produced. The slinky, flirty “Miss You Much” is the apex of ’80s dance-pop; “Love Will Never Do (Without You)” is an unforgettable anthem even without the iconic Herb Ritts-directed video. And though the dream team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis turns everything to gold, Jackson was under-recognized for being the album’s co-producer as well. In the process, she became as big a turn-of-the-decade star as Madonna, and maybe even a bigger one than her brother. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

53. PJ Harvey, Rid of Me

(Island, 1993)

Polly Jean Harvey imbued her second album with such rawness — rawness like bleeding meat — in her funereal-sexual groans and in Steve Albini’s metal-shop production, that “Missed” could concern either a departed lover or a big dick (or one attached to the other). In the off-road vehicle masquerading as a single (“50 ft. Queenie”) she wears the cock herself and grows ten inches with every chorus, much to her Casanova’s dismay-or-pleasure. Even Tarzan contends with a menstrual “Me-Jane” — no one reimagines mythical males like Harvey. If it’s not too #notallmen to mention, her band deserves credit for decentering the time signatures on these tattered grunge-blues massacres. Rarely has an album about pleasure sounded so pained — all rubbing here ends with bleeding, and those injuries are licked anew — just like a real sex life. — DAN WEISS

52. De La Soul, 3 Feet High and Rising

(Tommy Boy, 1989)

Hippies? Pure plug bull, sez Posdnuos. More like Afromodernists from the Strong Island ‘burbs, colorful all the same: English-class crushes, Right Guard PSAs, limericks. Yet they also warned against using ghettos as scapegoats, preemptively crushing that daisy underfoot. And in the capable hands of Prince Paul, the crew made sure their fetishization of vinyl crackle stood out even in an age known for sampling. That ride was nearly over (thanks, Turtles; thanks, Gilbert O’Sullivan). But The Man couldn’t muffle the Bob Dorough/Steinski bounce of “The Magic Number,” nor “Eye Know,” hip-hop’s most sunshine-kissed love letter. — JASON GUBBELS

51. Hüsker Dü, New Day Rising

(SST, 1985)

In the span of a year and a half, Hüsker Dü almost single-handedly revolutionized underground rock by releasing three classic LPs: Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, and Flip Your Wig. Each has its merits, but it’s the in-between effort that emerged as the perfect bridge between the trio’s free-wheeling past and more streamlined future. Punk and hardcore abrasions (“If I Told You,” “59 Times The Pain”) slammed against noise-pop classics (“The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill,” “I Apologize”), even as other, more outré tunes embraced jazzbos, bluesy bar bands, and skronky post-punk acts. There’s a very good reason “I Apologize” and “Celebrated Summer” are still staples of frontman Bob Mould’s set lists today: New Day Rising’s songwriting stands ferocious, focused, and timeless. — ANNIE ZALESKI

50. Eminem, The Marshall Mathers LP

(Interscope, 2000)

Some understandably think that the best-selling rapper of all time ushered in the unfortunate era of Internet trolling. But what his magnum opus really did was answer a question that’s been dangling since 1955: How far can rock’n’roll go? Eminem carves out the exact line between social songcraft and antisocial behavior with a chainsaw and then uses it to poke everyone on the other side in the face. Mick Jagger sang about painting it black, and Roger Daltrey hoped to be a corpse before he looked like one, but Eminem wanted to make fun into something hurtful. And lo and behold he was hurt himself: abusive mother, abusive baby mama, abusive, uh, self — if his fantasies of drowning the long-suffering Kim Mathers are to be bought.

And that’s where he gets you: first rapper in history who does not want to be believed. His mother-raping, LFO-splattering fantasies are painstakingly P-R-E-T-E-N-D because that’s what he’s selling — imagination and verbal dexterity, not experience with artillery or criminal genius. “Who Knew” is an honest look at the superstar shift from lunchroom rap-battling to worrying if adolescent listeners are going to bring your most violent rhymes to life. Cartoon boast “The Real Slim Shady” is the reason said kids are copying him in the first place. And don’t forget “Kill You,” where the self-described “Serial killer hiding murder material in a cereal box on top of your stereo” claims to have invented violence. It would all be dogs**t if it wasn’t some of the most stressful cinema ever set to a beat: the disturbed fan’s lament (“Stan”), the tear-choked homicide (“Kim”), the gay-baiting first-amendment spree (“Criminal”), all pumped through rapid-fire syntax and bulging neck veins, like bullet rounds to your moral center. — DAN WEISS

49. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

(Nonesuch, 2002)

It’s an almost impossible thing to imagine: a group with an established lane taking a hard left into experimental territory and finding their largest audience yet, already there, waiting. But Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is like that — impossible in so many ways. There was the label drama, of course, which resulted in Wilco getting dropped by one Warner subsidiary, leaking this “career-ender” of an album, then selling it back at a premium to another Warner label once everyone realized it was brilliant. There was the band drama, which was a bummer but somehow made for fierce chemistry.

There was the fact that it was slated for release on 9/11, that it was done before that awful day, and yet it seems full of overt references, from the twin Marina City towers on the cover, to a song called “Ashes of American Flags,” to lyrics like, “Tall buildings shake / Voices escape singing sad, sad songs…/ Skyscrapers are scraping together.” It felt like catharsis, though it wasn’t meant to be. But more than anything, the perfect ratio of signal to noise, the lyrics that align broad poetry with personal confession, the inexplicable catchiness, the amazing performances, the expert layering of dense textures, and the heart that shines through… It shouldn’t be possible, but here it is. — CHRIS MARTINS

48. Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral

(Interscope/Nothing, 1994)

Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor became an MTV star with 1989’s subversive-yet-accessible Pretty Hate Machine made clear, but it was the release of 1992’s ultra-aggressive, emotionally messier Broken EP that communicated he and the band had far darker ambitions. Enter The Downward Spiral. Taken separately, the nuts and bolts of NIN’s sophomore full-length — menacing industrial beats, metallic guitars, and slinky electronic programming — were nothing revolutionary. But when combined with Reznor’s nihilism, despair, and destructive tendencies (plus co-production from alt-rock studio ace Flood), these components became the foundation of a bona fide blockbuster born from the underbelly.

Creepy instrumental interludes amped up the horror-movie vibe (an unsettling aura enhanced by the fact that Spiral was recorded in the house where the Manson family murdered actress Sharon Tate), while Reznor’s knack for seep-under-your-skin hooks — as heard on S&M manifesto “Closer,” the beautifully entropic “Hurt,” and even the punishing, rhythmically inscrutable “March of the Pigs” — dropped a cherry atop the record’s self-loathing sundae. The album went nuclear, and made NIN emblematic of a certain strain of disaffection, one that’s proven to far outlast the 1990s. — ANNIE ZALESKI

47. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver

(Capitol/DFA, 2007)

In a certain sense, Sound of Silver is a long mash note to New York City — the good (the piano-scattered “All My Friends”), the bad (the wobbly, torchy ballad “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”), and the proud (citizens who view NYC as the center of the universe, behold “North American Scum”). But James Murphy’s true genius was his ability to capture universal truths (e.g., the sobering death rattle of “Someone Great”) and the way he and his band made familiar new wave, synth-pop, house, and dance-punk influences sound fresh. — ANNIE ZALESKI

46. Modest Mouse, The Moon and Antarctica

(Epic, 2000)

Not everybody gets to visit the real moon or Antarctica, but Modest Mouse’s third LP (and major-label debut) skews frosty and dark enough to feel like an isolated, sub-zero substitute. Human contact wouldn’t make much difference, though: “No one really knows the ones they love,” frontman Isaac Brock asserts in the miserably circular “Lives.” The most fully realized statement from the Northwest’s most popular curmudgeons doesn’t relent anywhere else. Over 15 tracks and 59 minutes, The Moon and Antarctica transmits Brock’s crazed, wind-up-toy mindstate in big-budget detail, pairing overcast instrumentation and cavernous atmosphere with gut-punching truths like “Everyone’s life ends, but no one ever completes it.” Bizarrely, the future Seth Cohen favorites went on to achieve bona fide mainstream success, but the no-longer modest mice were never more gimlet-eyed or far-reaching than when they traded the lonesome, crowded west for intergalactic introspection. — RACHEL BRODSKY

45. Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city

(Interscope/Aftermath, 2012)

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar proved an astounding lyricist on early releases like O(verly) D(edicated) and Section.80, but the titanic ambition of his Interscope Records debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, vaulted him into platinum sales on a laced blunt and a dark night of the soul. Equal parts Greek tragedy and John Singleton flick, the 12-track epic traces its titular teen’s descent into crime and possibly death — a string of events aided by an accidental PCP dosage and a clique of rowdy friends. Falling by the wayside is easier than it looks, Kendrick’s poised, elegiac stageplay says with the coldly orchestrated missteps and misfortunes that initiate our good kid’s undoing. — CRAIG JENKINS

44. Pavement, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain

(Matador, 1994)

If their debut buzzed with the din of basement noise, Pavement’s follow-up to 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted allowed five Stockton eggheads room to refine their musical attack. And while they’d continue deeper into psychedelia with each successive release, here’s where they first stumbled upon prog-slop grandeur, lurching and bouncing through golden choruses with as many time-signature switch-ups as good old Gentle Giant. For all their fabled reputation as lackadaisical musicians, what sticks out isn’t the aforementioned sloppiness but a band’s careful attention to sonic detail — Steve West’s expressive cymbal work, the entwined guitar leads of SM/Spiral.

Every chorus and sneer worms its way into memory, from cheerfully pilfered hooks (“Silence Kid” goosing Buddy Holly’s “Everyday”) to ragged ooh-oohs gracing laconic considerations of special new bands. And if few indie outfits made such a habit of insisting obscurantism could be catchy, it wasn’t all in-jokes and glimmers of postgrad paradise. Amid fading Walkmans and elegant bachelors were Central Valley kids proudly flying their territorial freak flag, either via a shout-out to Contra Costa native Dave Brubeck or on NorCal anthem “Unfair,” which raised a metaphorical cup to the Owens Valley by proclaiming “the South takes what the North delivers.” — JASON GUBBELS

43. Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

(Merge, 1998)

If you believe in ghosts — and if you don’t, this album may convince you — then In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is Anne Frank’s second most famous work. The lore here is indispensable to this LP’s incredible, unaffected strangeness: Genius music hermit Jeff Mangum — co-founder of Georgia psych-pop collective Elephant 6 — picked up a copy of The Diary of a Young Girl. He read it cover to cover, cried for days, and then began having dreams of a time machine that sent him back to the 1940s in order to save the teenaged Holocaust victim.

The superbly evocative yet deeply surreal lyrics then wrote themselves, or something like that. As Mangum sings it on the title track, “Anna’s ghost is all around / Hear her voice as it’s rolling and ringing through me.” A man possessed, he logged tales of two-headed boys who make radios, Siamese twins consumed by a giant beast, semen-stained mountaintops, dissolving dogs, and holy rattlesnakes. And his voice did ring, a raw and powerful thing rattling the bodies of the instruments his friends had amassed — singing saws, bagpipes, banjos, guitars, brass, tape machines, organs, drums, accordions — in order to give these weird and earthy songs the majestic plebeian orchestra they deserved. Though Neutral Milk Hotel made an album before (1996’s On Avery Island), the lineup that created Aeroplane met just this once in studio. What they captured was a moment, impossible to replicate, where brilliance, history, and insanity converged on one man who’s never been the same since. — CHRIS MARTINS

42. M.I.A. Kala

(XL/Interscope, 2007)

“World fusion” is so wrong for this Hounslow-by-way-of-Sri-Lanka poptivist. You think Putumayo would be down with advice on lobbing petrol bombs, incorporating gunshots as rim shots, love ballads involving journalists on genocide-awareness tours, and guest verses from pre-teen Aboriginal rappers? Blaring synth tweedle, urumee drums mashed with rave sonics, rinse, lather, repeat until thrill and annoyance become one — you say it’s garish like that’s a bad thing. This is the sound of every block party and cab ride from Bamako to Kuala Lumpur. M.I.A.’s trick was to make agitprop out of it. — JASON GUBBELS

41. Elliot Smith, Either/Or

(Kill Rock Stars, 1997)

The quintessential piece by an indie-folk craftsman revered for his preternatural skill with melody, poetic lyricism, and devoted work ethic. Elliott Smith’s third album — and final for Pacific Northwest outpost Kill Rock Stars — earned him a wider following, the attention of filmmaker Gus Van Sant (which itself eventually led to an Oscar nomination), and a major-label deal; all well and good, but the reason Either/Or endures as the late singer-songwriter’s greatest legacy is its quiet, low-key intimacy. Lit with magic-hour warmth and steeped in autumnal tones, the 12-track collection conveys a homespun quality that’s underlined by Smith’s wounded strums, near-tremble of a voice, and inner-monologue perspective that teeters between fatalistic (“The fix is in,” from “Alameda”) and hopeful (the closer’s titular “Say yes”). He subsequently went on to make a pair of accomplished and polished LPs, but Smith was never more personal than he was on this turning point. — KYLE MCGOVERN

40. OutKast, Stankonia

(LaFace, 2000)

“People are still trying to understand us,” André 3000 remarked from the stage during the final hometown show of his recent reunion tour with OutKast partner Big Boi, at Atlanta’s Centennial Park this past September. Beginning with 1994 debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, the duo made an art of defying easy understanding while always presenting enough surface appeal to give people a reason for trying. Part of their gift was in establishing dichotomies, then subverting them: Faced with divisions between conscious or street, player or poet, familiar or futuristic, each OutKast member found ways to be both, and in the process become more than the sum of those parts.

No longer could East Coast or West Coast rap partisans jeer André 3000’s famous 1995 pronouncement that “the South got something to say”; in between the prophetic booty-bass shock and awe of “B.O.B.,” the ingeniously grown-up breakup songcraft of “Ms. Jackson,” or the suavely absurdist braggadocio of “So Fresh, So Clean,” OutKast engineered a space vast enough to say it in that justified their quasi-extraterrestrial self-description as ATLiens. Their city has since come to rule hip-hop, and hard-charging Stankonia guest Killer Mike’s Run the Jewels had one of 2014’s best albums, but this record’s outsized ambition offers plenty more to unpack. — MARC HOGAN

39. Burial, Untrue

(Hyperdub, 2007)

At this point, Burial has as much to do with dubstep as Led Zeppelin IV did with metal. Think pop, R&B — especially R&B. How did an anonymous mope do what his creeping, downtempo forebears Tricky and Portishead could not, and change everything in beat-based music the way Nirvana leg-dropped hair metal? Maybe by engaging with the outside world: This supposedly insular bar-setter for minimalism assimilated Xtina, Beyoncé, shell casings from Grand Theft Auto, and the f**kboy from Kim K’s sex tape to turn the pop world gray and rain-damaged and slow it to a crawl. Never druggy, and often soberingly melodic, the anonymous fly on the wall of emo Britain names one dour vibe “In McDonalds” because he knows that’s where you’ll be earbudding his post-apocalyptic, tantalizingly shuffled beatscapes. All that was missing in 2007 to complete the link in the chain was Drake. — DAN WEISS

38. Beyoncé, Beyoncé

(Columbia, 2013)

If the album is dead, at least Beyoncé got to dance on its grave. Kanye West sparked his latest awards-show publicity furor when he said Beck’s Morning Phase Album of the Year Grammy should’ve gone to Beyoncé, but in hindsight — usual Grammys-don’t-matter caveats aside — it would’ve been like giving the award for Best Steel-Driving Man to the steam-powered hammer instead of John Henry. Beyoncé towers over the recent zeitgeist, a culmination of ideas to date about what the album can be, at a time when “the album” is an increasingly abstract idea. The former Destiny’s Child singer has released plenty of strong, hit-filled LPs, but Beyoncé works best as a full-length statement, leveraging the White House serenader and Super Bowl fuse-blower’s enviable industry clout for an adventurous, cohesive, and flat-out entertaining set that builds on Prince and Janet Jackson, Houston rap and TV on the Radio, The Big Lebowski and the Challenger disaster, lovemaking and miscarriage.

Where the biggest album of this past year has been Taylor Swift’s fine but familiar 1989, Beyoncé has helped push the hip-hop/R&B intersection into shadowier, more self-contained worlds, as heard more recently on Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. Oh yes: Another similarity between the Beyoncé and Drake records is that both were released without warning (though it’s Advantage: Beyhive when it comes to including a full set of visuals). Well, since Beyoncé‘s overnight arrival, the record industry has moved toward a single global release day. And Billboard’s best-known albums chart no longer reflects pure album sales alone. In the future, Beyoncé may get robbed of an award for Best Album-Equivalent Unit, but as far as traditional albums-as-wholes go, in both content and form (which in pop inherently overlap), this one’s hard to beat. — MARC HOGAN

37. U2, Achtung Baby

(Island, 1991)

As far as career reinventions go, Achtung Baby ranks up there with Babe Ruth switching from pitching to hitting: The biggest band of their generation, known primarily for their chest-beating (if occasionally stomach-turning) über-sincerity, ditching the blues and the American heartland for Berlin and post-modernism, and becoming more popular than ever for it. The follow-up LP to 1989’s overcooked Rattle and Hum was so successful because as much as the lads suddenly cared about pushing the envelope — and really, despite the band’s then-stunning embrace of Manchester-derived dance rhythms and Eno-helmed electronics and digitized guitars, today the album sounds about as innovative as Imagine Dragons — they still cared far more about pulling the heartstrings with the sharpest, most personal songwriting of Bono’s career.

The eternally ubiquitous “One” gets all the attention for its universality, but far more affecting was the devastating end-of-days stateliness of “So Cruel,” the soaring melodies and lyrical co-dependence of “Ultraviolet,” the fumbled metaphors and drunk-dialing urgency of “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses?” Nearly a quarter-century later, we’re still waiting for U2 to pull another Achtung Baby, but that doesn’t really mean we want them to embrace dutch house or trap music: It just means we want them to write the best songs in the world again. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

36. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back

(Def Jam, 1988)

Rap didn’t begin as “the black CNN,” just like rock’n’roll didn’t begin as a vehicle for rebellion or grunge or punk. The Sugarhill Gang were a disco offshoot and rap formed in its rhythms, bringing the groove itself to the forefront. But what if you distort the groove, interrupt it with scratching, tear it to shreds with leftist invective and tune-errant squeals and blares? You might end up rebirthing rock’n’roll all over again. Chuck D is so cool, so calm within his pissed-off groan, so smart in between the furrowed brows of his punny slogans. He assumes the voice of a national leader, beyond-infuriated and well-enunciated. And for his sidekick, he brought Flavor Flav, a jester with a giant clock, along for the ride lest the tour get too serious. Those are the two poles of Public Enemy, everyone else is along the spectrum: Terminator X, the stone-faced DJ with the ridiculous name; Professor Griff, the outspoken anti-Semite so superfluous and antithetical to the group’s message it almost seems like his one job to make people upset; the Security of the First World dancers who dress military for ironic effect.

And circa the group’s second album, the Bomb Squad was present to hone the group’s vicious noises to blare as jaggedly as possible: a teakettle that shreds forward and backward alike as the backdrop for “Rebel Without a Pause,” an excoriating Slayer riff vivisecting “She Watch Channel Zero?!” and an orchestra of automobile horns and alarms electrifying the famed “Bring the Noise.” The quiet moments are just as unsettling: the deeply lonely sax on the interstitial “Show ‘Em Whatcha Got,” the psychedelic backwards piano wash that allows “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” to drip paranoid sweat for six-and-a-half minutes. Who has attempted this kind of punk-jazz-Last Poets-metal brigade since? Dead Prez? They got a nation of millions’ attention and they’ll never appear on no stamp. – DAN WEISS

35. Pulp, Different Class

(Island, 1995)

Jarvis Cocker and Co. always came across like Britpop’s jaded elder statesmen, probably because that’s exactly what they were: Pulp had been kicking around for over a decade before finally crashing the mainstream with 1994’s His ‘n’ Hers. The next year’s Different Class was an even greater success, mainly because the band still had a deep reserve of wry observations about societal hierarchy, romantic entanglements, and debauched nights at their disposal. Perhaps that’s why Different Class sounded exotic and sophisticated when compared to other Britpop-associated albums; Cocker played the part of seductive outsider — complete with theatrical vocal coos, whispers, and sly come-ons — while the record’s music was inspired by noirish jazz, gothic cabaret, ‘80s synth-disco, and Leonard Cohen’s dark, twisted poetry. Above all, Different Class was perhaps the decade’s most clever, depth-filled release; when Cocker exclaimed, “I want to live with common people like you!” it functioned as both a rallying cry for misfits and a thinly veiled sick burn. — ANNIE ZALESKI

34. Metallica, Master of Puppets

(Elektra, 1986)

Metallica’s landmark Master of Puppets is a dizzying masterpiece of bitter ends and new beginnings. It was the band’s first release on Elektra Records after years of rep-building tours around the East and West Coasts but also their last with founding bassist Cliff Burton, whose untimely passing in a bus crash changed the band forever. Master is the crowning jewel of Metallica’s beloved speed-metal era, but you can hear strains of the band’s future hard-rock accessibility in the slower moments. At its peak, the record makes uncommon bedfellows of devilish breakneck abandon and meticulous structural intricacy. The balance has scarcely been so keenly maintained, before or since. — CRAIG JENKINS

33. Radiohead, Kid A

(Capitol, 2000)

It comes on like drugs — a hot/cold narcotic swirl when the tone hits, causing eyes to roll back and the body to jitter, the legs to flail, and the neck to jerk. Nothing is in its right place, neither physiologically nor musically: This is not the Radiohead we know; this is not the rhythm we recognize; this is not what we wanted to hear. After OK Computer made rock sound new again, Thom Yorke and Co. were meant to save the entire genre from creeping obsolescence. Instead they abandoned the sinking arena for the celestial wilds of Aphex, Mingus, Björk, Reich, and Faust.

The band was burned out on expectation both external and internal, so they changed their entire methodology, setting aside their prescribed instruments to work as a collective of producers. Samples, strings, modular synths, brass, field recordings, raw jam-outs, Pro Tools manipulation, wigged-out guitars, and the holy ondes Martenot (one of the first electronic instruments, invented in 1928) were all employed by whosoever felt the urge. Blessed with Yorke’s eerie coo and Jonny Greenwood’s cinematic ear, the band couldn’t help but be wondrously melodious even if all they purported to care about this time around was pattern and pulse. And perhaps that’s why Kid A is so great. As a neither here nor there post-rock and/or electronic LP, it sounds like nothing else (except Amnesiac), which makes it all the more distinctly Radiohead. — CHRIS MARTINS

32. A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory

(Jive, 1991)

There’s a scene in Michael Rapaport’s fantastic 2011 documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, where Q-Tip reflects on the rap explorers’ early days, when it came time to follow Tribe’s 1990 debut: “‘Sophomore jinx?’ What the f**k is that? I’m going to make The Low End Theory.” And so he did. The second outing from ATCQ saw the Native Tongues’ Queens contingent deepen their vibes and stuff; namely, their sonic canvas and the interplay between lead MCs Tip and Phife Dawg, who are very possibly hip-hop’s best-ever double act. (Of course, eternal respect to Tribe DJ/producer Ali Shaheed Muhammad — alt-rap’s answer to Krist Novoselic — and sometimes-member Jarobi White.)

Imbibing the atmosphere and spirit of jazz, Tribe (aided on one track by legendary double-bassist Ron Carter) drafted a minimalist, mellow tapestry over which Tip unfurled his “Butter”-y flow and Phife played high-pitched foil. In relaying memories from their salad days on the boulevard of Linden (“Check the Rhime”), critiquing the music industry (“Show Business”), and musing on gender relations (“The thing that men and women need to do is stick together / Progressions can’t be made if we’re separate forever”), A Tribe Called Quest were thoughtful (“conscious,” if you will) without being preachy, laid-back without being spineless. You on point, Phife? All the time, Tip. — KYLE MCGOVERN

31. Weezer, Weezer (Blue Album)

(DGC, 1994)

My ten favorite things about The Blue Album, in no particular order:

1. The handclaps at the end of “Buddy Holly.”

2. How the combination of lead and backing vocals on “I’m goin’ surfin” makes it sound like Rivers is saying “surfening” on “Surf Wax America.”

3. The ringing guitar sustain from the final chorus hovering over the closing riff to “Say It Ain’t So.”


5. The crunching of “garage” to the one-syllable “grage” in the chorus to “In the Garage.” (Just kidding, that’s the one thing about the album that I could never stand.)

6. The octave-up vocal transition at the end of the second pre-chorus to “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here.”

7. The drum intro to “Undone — The Sweater Song,” duh.


9. The bass finally breaking pattern and petering out at the end of “Only in Dreams.”

10. The fact that your list is undoubtedly totally different than this one. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

30. Beck, Odelay

(DGC, 1996)

It’s not an easy thing to end up on a list like this, but it helps to be some combination of sad, introverted, and disagreeable — much rarer to these parts is the genuinely fun album. But here’s Odelay, a postmodern musical playground that inspired critics to trade arch snickers for belly laughs, and the mainstream to get even more absurd. If high-fives made songs, they’d sound like these — slaphappy mash-ups of whatever’s awesome, from funky drum breaks to karaoke cowboy country to goofy lounge funk to noisy f**kin’ guitars to nonsensical Spanish phrases and raps about “ass pants.”

Beck’s omnivorous appetite was made clear on Mellow Gold — and his lust for genre deconstruction via his indie LPs — but he didn’t have the Dust Brothers then. Who better than the Paul’s Boutique guys to help a holy prankster make his herky-jerky dream an elastic reality? Here’s a sampledelic masterpiece and a songwriter’s opus expertly stitched into one magical quilt fit to hang in a museum, but best suited for a bin in a thrift store located, of course, a little up the road from the towns we know. — CHRIS MARTINS

29. R.E.M., Automatic for the People

(Warner Bros., 1992)

In the rearview mirror, R.E.M.’s career arc and ascent to arenas looks even more unorthodox than it did when it was actually happening. The Athens, Georgia band became global megastars thanks to an ornate orchestral album of love songs (1991’s Out Of Time) and a moody collection of ruminations on death, politics, and Andy Kaufman (1992’s Automatic For The People). On the latter LP, acoustic instruments, faded-by-sunlight organ, and grand string arrangements — as well as the occasional flourish of buzzsawing electric guitar — led to gothic-folk yarn-spinning, snarling rock’n’roll, and sepia-toned country-pop. Michael Stipe’s continued confidence as a writer yielded some of the most beautiful lyrics of his career: The nostalgic yearning of “Nightswimming” the optimistic striving of “Find The River,” and the restrained “Try Not To Breathe,” which confronts aging and death with humility and respect. Gorgeous and understated, Automatic For The People is R.E.M. at their creative and emotional peak. — ANNIE ZALESKI

28. Nirvana, In Utero

(DGC, 1993)

This one was for the SST kids and the K Records weirdos — Steve Albini going crazy with the microphones (couple dozen for Dave Grohl’s kit alone) to better capture a fame-weary power trio in punkoid glory. But while Kurt Cobain and Co. took perverse pleasure in defying pop expectations — right down to reconfiguring their big hit as anti-rape clatter — every hook and chorus still signified. And talk about wasted opportunities: An entire generation of screamo lads would ignore Cobain’s suggestions on how to express male rage and male vulnerability simultaneously. Platinum alt would rarely go so stark, so wounded, so loud. — JASON GUBBELS

27. The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die

(Bad Boy, 1994)

A Buddha-bellied rapper with a voice that sounds like he has permanent post-nasal drip, talking about picking the morning crust out of his eyes: not traditionally sexy. But because the Notorious B.I.G. knew that better than anybody, he flaunted and got famous for it (“Heartthrob? Never!”). The one and only studio album released during the legendary Brooklyn rapper’s short lifetime is exceptional, cinematic. Puff’s production makes gangsters boogie (sunny “Juicy,” bonus scorcher “Who Shot Ya?”), and Biggie wrote songs that read like Scorsese scripts (“Me & My Bitch,” “Everyday Struggle”). An unlikely star, sure, but Biggie was one of rap’s brightest, and Ready to Die reminds us that his movie ended far too soon. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

26. The Dismemberment Plan, Emergency & I

(DeSoto, 1999)

Travis Morrison’s worst nightmare circa 1999 was that they’d make a memory machine to wash away grief and “wax our hearts to a blinding sheen.” He even pleads for the ability to cry at will. That is, he worries like so many men before him that you don’t know he Means It, and possibly that he doesn’t Mean It at all. He invented the Internet a year before Gore did, predicting how we now have to pay somebody to ensure that memories stay dead. And on the dubby, bass-grounded “Spider in the Snow” he’s been through the machine and wishes he hadn’t: “The only thing worse than bad memories is no memories at all.”

His postgrad alienation encourages him toward math problems that only his world-class rhythm section can solve: a human gyroscope trying to tessellate her broken heart with reverse centrifugal force, a “Girl O’Clock” to measure the Earth by unrequited orgasms rather than spins, and a universal party invitation that doesn’t exactly solve any of his woes. “Nothing’s wrong, I’m just fine / I’ve realized I just don’t like jokes,” from “The Jitters” is one of Morrison’s most cruelly funny lines, buoyed by the empathy of the lyric that redeems all the faux-detachment: “You are so needed.” He’s upgraded his membership to the human race. — DAN WEISS

25. Hole, Live Through This

(DGC, 1994)

On their major-label debutante ball, Hole bolstered mid-’90s alt-rock with scorched-earth pop songcraft — era standards “Miss World,” “Violet” and “Doll Parts” all appear here, and on side-one, no less — and the shame-free, s**t-starting fearlessness of frontwoman Courtney Love. An instant icon of the times, Love was cocky and flippant enough to even take shots at the riot grrrrls. When Live snarls, it screams, refusing to be victimized by its insecurity: “One day you will ache like I ache.” The line feels especially eerie in knowing that the album was released on April 12, 1994 — just four days after Love’s husband, Kurt Cobain, was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound — but the context doesn’t overshadow the power of Hole’s crowning achievement, giving them limitless credit in the straight world. — MARIA SHERMAN

24. The Replacements, Tim

(Sire, 1985)

Snagging a major-label record deal didn’t diminish the Replacements’ rough-around-the-edges demeanor one bit. Although the group’s first LP for Sire is not quite as loose-cannon as its predecessor (1984’s slop-rock classic Let It Be), there’s still plenty of that good ol’ shambolic ‘Mats charm to be found in the cathartic howl of “Bastards of Young,” the desperate “Hold My Life,” and the twangy bar-band jam that is “Waitress In The Sky.” Credit for this well-mannered chaos certainly goes to producer Tommy Ramone, but Tim’s penchant for ragged heartache and hollowed-out longing is vintage Paul Westerberg melancholy.

It’s the tender moments — especially the delicate closer “Here Comes a Regular” and misfit-solidarity anthem “Left of the Dial” — that make this one so hard to wash off. And, in hindsight, Tim marked a turning point for its makers: Guitarist Bob Stinson was kicked out of the ‘Mats after its release, and each subsequent record brought the not-so-fresh-faced band closer and closer to becoming (relatively) genteel college-rock elder statesmen. But Tim represents the moment when the Replacements lived up to their potential in high fidelity — or at least higher fidelity — for the first time. — ANNIE ZALESKI

23. Nas, Illmatic

(Columbia, 1994)

Time and time again, the Queensbridge rapper’s debut has been praised for its lyrical complexity, thematic maturity, and technical dexterity — and hey, it contains one of the most epic, poetic rap songs of all time in “One Love.” But for those of us who’d only seen the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade version of New York City, Illmatic was a behind-the-scenes tour, and on his 39-minute masterpiece, Nas was a canny, eagle-eyed guide. His crisp-as-hospital-corners articulation and inventive metaphors stand in sharp contrast to the fast-and-loose hustlers and gritty realism of his hood. Thanks to melancholic production courtesy of DJ Premier and Pete Rock, the album seems set against a backdrop of heavy, low-hanging clouds pregnant with rain. Yet for all of the gloomy world-weariness that’s imbued, its closer, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell,” breaks through like a single glorious ray, setting the chrome-and-steel city ablaze and dazzling you with beauty. Sparkle like a diamond, indeed. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

22. Green Day, Dookie

(Reprise, 1994)

“I declare, I don’t care no more,” Billie Joe Armstrong snots in the opening line to Dookie, a pop-punk compendium of suburban ennui. With their looping, addictive three-chord dead-arms, Armstrong, drummer Tré Cool, and bassist Mike Dirnt made their agenda clear: no agenda at all. Pretty much every pot-glazed track on the trio’s major-label entrée reeks of not giving a f**k (“Burnout,” “Longview,” “Welcome to Paradise”) — even as their singer occasionally copped to giving way too much of one (“I am one of those / Melodramatic fools / Neurotic to the bone / No doubt about it”). Green Day idols like the Buzzcocks and Hüsker Dü may have dissected feelings of societal aimlessness and youthful unease in the ‘70s and ‘80s, but Dookie got to the heart of post-adolescent confusion with MTV-conquering blueprints for a generation of subsequent mallrats. “Do you have the time to listen to me whine?” C’mon man, you still gotta ask? — RACHEL BRODSKY

21. OutKast, Aquemini

(LaFace, 1998)

For all the albums in hip-hop’s best-ever canon, OutKast’s Aquemini might be the one that would be best described as “meditative,” an LP whose jazzy, languid soundscapes and borderline-Southern Gothic alleyway poetry even made Illmatic sound hasty. Its definitive, most-enduring song isn’t a plush ode to pimpdom, a mushroom cloud of post-apocalyptic electro-punk, or even a silly singalong catchy enough to earn its refrain a bouncing smiley-face, but rather a seven-minute, sweeter-than-extra-syrup-yams slow-funk odyssey that winds its way through dance, drugs, love, lust, death, birth and getting your resume turned down at the Post Office (Biggie lied!), Big Boi offering in devastating summation: “Go on and marinate on that for a minute.”

There’s nothing but time for marination across Aquemini’s hour-plus of considered genre-hopping, an expanse as vast and fadingly gorgeous as the Savannah, and as gritty and clear-eyed as West Savannah. Tellingly, it was OutKast’s only proper studio LP not to spawn a top 40 hit: “Rosa Parks” was too mush-mouthed in its historic rabble-rousing, “Skew It on the Bar-B” too nervous with its jutting strings and skittering beats. But it endures as the duo’s masterpiece, because it feels so coherent in its worldview: Experience-worn but not conclusive enough to be cynical or self-righteous, funny (but not that funny) because it was so true — the sun goes down, heroes eventually die. No further comment needed or warranted while ‘Dre and ‘Twan are practicing Da Art of Storytellin’, Pts. 1-16. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

20. Pixies, Doolittle

(Elektra, 1989)

It’s hard to find an “alternative” or “indie” band, from Nirvana to TV on the Radio, that wasn’t deeply impacted by Doolittle. Even the Dadaists got a bump thanks to an unforgettable, psychotically sung line about slicing up eyeballs, ha ha ha ho! As with so many game-changing albums, it’s all about the contrasts: Frank Black’s glee while squawking about torture, pop songwriting tropes/chops smashing into punky noise, the loud-quiet dynamic that rang out like a revelation at the time, the simplicity of the chords versus the complexity of the results. It’s Dark grappling with Light and violently tumbling across 38 minutes of lacerating guitars and soothing grooves.

Or, to put it another way: If the devil is six and God is seven, then the Pixies are 6.5 with a thumb pressing into one’s cornea and two fingers up the other’s nostrils, grinning. Though the Boston band seemed to thrive amidst chaos, their greatest moment was also the start of their unraveling, as tensions between Black and Kim Deal grew in tandem with the band’s fame. For the suicidal Japanese businessmen that inspired “Wave of Mutilation,” that success might have been enough to make them turn the car around. For the Pixies, it was a brick on the gas pedal toward inevitable doom. — CHRIS MARTINS

19. The Strokes, Is This It

(RCA, 2001)

Much has been made of the Strokes’ cocktail of sleepy-eyed sleaze, luminous guitars, and ineffable cool, but one ingredient rarely gets the due it deserves — frontman Julian Casablancas’ skill as a lyricist. Bob Dylan he’s not, but the New York crooner’s deft transmissions of twentysomething swagger and self-doubt were key to the quintet’s early success, when every one of their songs could’ve been spun off as a single. “I should’ve worked much harder / I should’ve just not bothered”; “Promises, they break before they’re made”; “Girlfriends, they don’t understand / In spaceships, they won’t understand / And me, I ain’t ever gonna understand” — simple phrases, yes, but all the better for a generation of gorgeous young narcissists to project their own romantic entanglements and money problems onto. (Didn’t hurt either that Casablancas wore his role of Lower East Side lounge singer like it was a thrift-store denim jacket tailored just for him.)

Feverishly anticipated then unfairly slandered for failing to lead a culture-wide garage-rock takeover, Is This It has since been canonized (rightfully) as one of the most fully realized debuts in history, an indie touchstone for kids who missed Pavement and Guided By Voices the first time around. And as the fall of 2001 slips further and further into memory, what once was a never-fail signifier of hipsterdom —a (slightly) modern take on ’70s MOR for the downtown crowd — has revealed itself to be the first classic-rock record of the new millennium. — KYLE MCGOVERN

18. Björk, Homogenic

(Elektra, 1997)

Björk was already showing signs of being a music renegade — pushing ‘90s dance into the future through flirtations with trip-hop, jungle and industrial while staying connected enough to pop’s past to reinterpret jazz and big-band standards — when she started recording her third solo album in 1996. The resulting work cemented her status as an electronic-pop pioneer: Constructed in conjunction with such collaborators as Howie B, Markus Dravs, and the late LFO member Mark Bell, Homogenic fused together twitching beats, splotchy programming, and fanciful orchestras. Trip-hop, hip-hop, ambient electronica, buzzing industrial-punk, and delicate synth-pop ballads — Homogenic consumed and blended them all. Creatively, Björk thrived in this expansive environment, as evidenced by her crisp, emotive vocal performances and vivid, poetic lyrics (e.g. “Bachelorette”: “I’m a fountain of blood / In the shape of a girl”). To this day, Homogenic remains a touchstone for anyone who treasures music with imagination and little regard for expectations or boundaries. — ANNIE ZALESKI

17. Beastie Boys, Paul’s Boutique

(Capitol, 1989)

A dilution of fratboy purpose and fewer radio-ready singles might not have helped, but really, the reason for the commercial failure of Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique was simple: It was a year too early. Released in 1989, Boutique essentially invented the ‘90s, or at least most of the endearing parts: the stir-fry genre-melding, the pop-cultural fetishization, the sense of humor that was more smartass than dumbass. (Hell, it even predicted hip-hop genre trends on both coasts: The ‘70s funk and psychedelia fixation of the West and the micro-sampling and jazz retro of the East.) Without the action-packed “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun,” we might not have had Quentin Tarantino; without the ADD-addled grooving of “Shake Your Rump” we might not have had Beck (obviously); without the Me Decade mélange of the “Hey Ladies” video, we might not have had Spike Jonze. Although, without “3-Minute Rule,” we definitely wouldn’t have gotten “I was making records when you were sucking your mutha’s DICK,” and that would undoubtedly have been most tragic of all. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

16. The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs

(Merge, 1999)

Musicians have been trying to express romantic love in all of its infuriating forms since, well… when have they not been? But in his band’s three-disc opus, Stephin Merritt embarks on an unprecedented voyage exploring 69 shades of amour, attempting to cover every matter of the heart from every possible perspective — sometimes through the lens of an insufferable cynic, and others a deeply enamoured Pepé Le Pew. “This could be love, or nothing at all,” he baritones in the fickle country-tinged bouncer “A Chicken With its Head Cut Off.” The titular poultry is symbolic for all of 69 Love Songs; in a series of quick cuts (many of them lasting only one-to-two minutes), Merritt covers a smorgasbord of feelings, including: lust-struck ebullience (“Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side”), betrayal and dissolution (“I Can’t Touch You Any More”), a long-term relationship’s inevitable end (“I Think I Need a New Heart”), and deep post-breakup agony (“I Don’t Want to Get Over You”).

Merritt, in his singularly sardonic fashion, not only studies every look of love, but he also arranges a pu pu platter of sonic experimentation: Italian-influenced accordion on “My Sentimental Melody,” bass-slapping bee-bop on “Love Is Like Jazz,” twee cheerleader pep-pop on “Washington, D.C,” even banjo-fied Erasure on “Long-Forgotten Fairytale.” Love itself is hopelessly multi-faceted, and in the millennia that human beings have tried to define it through art, few have ever managed to honor that complexity like Merritt does here. — RACHEL BRODSKY

15. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet

(Def Jam, 1990)

Best to break this objet d’art into two halves, beginning with politics so incendiary they overwhelmed the musical conflagration. Excessive attention got paid to Chuck D’s ill-advised anti-Semitic throwaways on “Welcome to the Terrordome,” but if “Crucifixion ain’t no fiction / So-called chosen frozen” remains one of hip-hop’s ugliest lines, it’s not because others weren’t more blatant, but because Chuck’s political consciousness was more refined than theirs. Yet even “Terrordome” made broader points about media complicity and institutional racism. Decades removed, the outrage seems up-to-the-minute: slave-holder holidays, the case for reparations, Tawana Brawley defended as matter of principle, bigots deflecting police brutality with sneers about black-on-black crime (sez Chuck: “It was the fuzz who shot him / And not the blood or cuzz”).

Still, the album’s most radical quality was delivered courtesy of the Bomb Squad’s brand-new funk. An unrelenting barrage of loops, musique concrete, and On the Corner, the onslaught climaxed with “Fight The Power,” an Isley Brothers-informed call to arms that motherf**ks John Wayne and 400 years of rednecks over the sickest Clyde Stubblefield sample in pop history. “This system has no wisdom”: Preach it, Mistachuck. — JASON GUBBELS

14. My Bloody Valentine, Loveless

(Sire, 1991)

The Scottish gave us twee, but the Irish? A glistening tidal wave of whirring guitar into which all was subsumed, then sublimated, as noise gave way to transcendence and what first sounded warped revealed itself to be perfect. You can’t make another Loveless and you shouldn’t want to: Kevin Shields’ unyielding vision took him to 19 studios, bankrupted a lovely indie label, caused a twentysomething managerial type to go gray, gave tinnitus to the principal vocalists (Shields and Bilinda Butcher), cost two years and (by some estimates) $350,000, and forever altered the face of rock.

Ambient king Brian Eno reportedly called it “the vaguest piece of music ever to get into the charts,” and he meant that as a compliment. The lyrics are indecipherable; the drums were sampled and turned into loops; and instead of melodies, My Bloody Valentine supply vibrant bleeding tones that bloom into one another like the most aggressive impressionistic watercolor painting ever committed to canvas. It’s loud and bent and initially disorienting, but this album rewards the listener for suffering the challenge with immense beauty and constant discovery with every new listen. — CHRIS MARTINS

13. Jay Z, The Blueprint

(Roc-A-Fella, 2001)

Embroiled in feuds with other rappers, facing a pair of criminal charges (one for assault, another for gun possession), and written off by some as a style-over-substance sell-out, Jay Z used his sixth album — the boldly but aptly named The Blueprint — to pull off a deck-clearing coup, the kind that Michael Corleone would cosign. Assisted by then-up-and-coming producers Kanye West and Just Blaze, Hova stitched together a soul-centric tour de force, shading his first-person tales of lothario life (“Girls, Girls, Girls”), street hustlin’ (“Never Change”), and regret (“Song Cry”) with samples from ‘70s singers Tom Brock, David Ruffin, and Bobby Glenn.

For his rivals, particularly Nas and Mobb Deep MC Prodigy, Jay and ‘Ye tapped the Doors’ “Five to One” to mount the “Takeover,” a relentless, battlefield-leveling diss track that rendered all responses moot — Nas’ rebuttal, “Ether,” might live on as hip-hop shorthand for smiting foes, but a conversation-ending assault it simply is not. With his Blueprint, Mr. Carter envisioned himself untouchable, assuming the throne as the King of NYC and declaring himself the heir not just to the Notorious B.I.G., but to Frank Sinatra as well. This was the moment that the most iconic New Yorker of the 21st century truly emerged. — KYLE MCGOVERN

12. Sonic Youth, Daydream Nation

(Enigma, 1988)

Having accepted the challenge of how a politics of noise might accommodate songform, a New York City art-punk quartet decides to kick out the jams. From Gerhard Richter artwork to Joni Mitchell allusions, the Sonics were self-consciously making claims for an artistic sensibility not limited to Lower Manhattan. And yet with songs detailing Warhol films and Central Park’s Preppie Killer, the document also reeks of Downtown — chilly crack-era cool chased with a Dinosaur Jr. obsession.

Although the double album concludes with a 14-minute “Trilogy,” self-indulgence isn’t an issue, not with drummer Steve Shelley uniting each and every guitar exploration with jittery 4/4. Amid alternate tunings and gauzy chimes, new microgenres arose as afterthoughts (“Cross The Breeze” uniting hardcore with prog while laying the bedrock for black-metal experimentation) even as “Teen Age Riot” and “Total Trash” reveled in hookcraft. Thurston’s bemused croon, Kim’s irrepressible squall/whisper, Lee’s wide-eyed wonder — for all the amplified pummel, personalities dominated. And these particular art-punks were funny: Zeppelin symbols, Mike Watt answering machine messages, “Does ‘F**k you’ sound simple enough?” Trendsetters and scene-boosters both, they delivered indie’s finest 70 minutes of structural sophistication duking it out with raw power. — JASON GUBBELS

11. D’Angelo, Voodoo

(Virgin, 2000)

D’Angelo’s metamorphosis from preternaturally musical preacher’s son to platinum-selling R&B sex symbol was gradual and — if his lengthy sabbaticals are to be trusted — disorienting, but the throughline is the hearty down-home soul of his singing and piano playing. Mixed with a dab of hip-hop on 1995’s Brown Sugar, it created a rubric for the impending wave of neo-soul. On its 2000 follow-up, Voodoo, D chased his muse through a playground of styles: Hard hip-hop grooves on the DJ Premier-produced Belly soundtrack holdover “Devil’s Pie” and the Redman and Method Man collab “Left and Right,” Latin jazz on “Spanish Joint,” even gospel on “Send It On.”

Assisting in the journey is a crack band — bass legend Pino Palladino, Tony! Toni! Tone! leader Raphael Saadiq, Roots drummer ?uestlove, guitarist Charlie Hunter, jazz trumpet player Roy Hargrove — instructed to play intentionally imperfectly in the spirit of friend J Dilla’s painstakingly humanistic drum programming. The resultant jams are weightless and intoxicatingly funky, clear in their lineage but also, even now, singular and inimitable. — CRAIG JENKINS

10. Pavement, Slanted & Enchanted

(Matador, 1992)

Ever the record collector’s treasure, even (or especially?) in an age when record collecting is as much a pose as a passion. Pavement co-founders Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg intended to slap together an indie insider’s album with their debut full-length, a feat they pulled off swimmingly. For all its purposeful inscrutability, though — the enigmatic lyrics (“Forty! Million! Daggers!”), the slathers of feedback, the shambolic song structures — Slanted and Enchanted won the Stockton, California kids (and crazed fortysomething drummer Gary Young) a cultish following that only grew: critics and elitists intrigued by the LP’s esoteric aura and chintzy melodies, musical contemporaries and progeny inspired by the lo-fi budget and occasional sha-la-la vocal.

Remarkably, after feigning ambivalence over more than two decades’ worth of praise and obsession, the 14-track curio hasn’t had its charm or mystery bled out of it. No matter how many bored, laconic West Coast guitarists crib the stance and sun-streaked noise of opener “Summer Babe [Winter Version],” the original will always set the mood better; the resignation that fuels/embalms side-two ballad “Here” maintains eye contact but still appears aloof; don’t bother trying to decode the spoken-word thought-puzzle that is “Conduit for Sale!” — just agree when Malkmus channels the conviction to almost shout, “Between here and there is better than either here or there!” Take comfort in the truth that regardless of the season’s trends or how en vogue indie rock may be at any given time, Slanted and Enchanted’s on-the-cheap, Christmas-light genius never dims. — KYLE MCGOVERN

9. DJ Shadow, Endtroducing…..

(Mox Wax, 1996)

When the DJ born Josh Davis poses the question “What does your soul look like?” — in print of course; turntablists orate with their hands — it’s more likely that he means your R&B shelves than your moral center. After all, he’s in the Guinness Book for realizing every collector’s fantasy: distilling all of the music you own and love into the perfect record, freeing them from the confines of storage units and floodable basements for one endlessly playable artifact that strings together everything your heart misses when you’re playing something else. He sampled it all fearlessly, refusing to fret over breaking Metallica or Björk or hundreds of his favorite drum solos into 13 collapsible parts. Most of the hooks are pinched from dust-warped pre-rock orchestration — twinkling one-handed piano and garage-sale violin vying with lonesome wah guitar and Sunday-school organ solos. There are even themes: foreshadowed, stated, reprised. Via turntable and sampler, Davis crafted doors between disparate genre worlds, festoons them with non-sequitur skits that become spiritual guides. What you don’t remember you’ll come back to. But you’ll never catch it all, and won’t feel pressured to. There’s always another spin around the corner.  — DAN WEISS

8. Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

(Roc-A-Fella, 2010)

We didn’t always worship omnipotent beings free of temptation. Ancient Greeks believed in gods who were built in their image: fallible, vain, violent, lusty, jealous, dysfunctional families who disowned their kids for being ugly, or murdered the offspring of a spouse’s mistress. One could say they worshipped humanity itself. And one reason that the 37-year-old Kanye West suits himself to collaborate with a Beatle isn’t because they’re both bigger than Jesus — it’s because not since 1966 has a pop subject tried so hard to close the gap between celebrity worship and organized religion itself.

Kanye West knows damn well why the Internet overflows when say, Zayn leaves One Direction. He knows that’s where the real church is, beneath all those cursed lights, which he wants turned up bright enough to read a restraining order against him by his own theoretical kin (before he fathered North, of course). Later, said lights are shot out by an indie crooner who makes way for four “monsters,” including a nefarious Jay Z who appropriates sexual assault for a boast (“I rape and pillage your village, women and children”) that’s followed by the premier female rap verse of the era (do we need to say which?).

This is a world where sampled King Crimson and Aphex Twin collide with interpolated Black Sabbath and live Elton John. Where marrying a porn star means you both f**k the bridesmaids, and make a nun come for good measure. Where Chris Rock asks you who re-upholstered your pussy and Gil Scott-Heron asks who will survive in America. Where unloosing a dickpic actually sends you soul-searching for nine piano-flanked minutes. The most vital musician of the 21st century is not a god, and he knows it. He loves humanity too much to believe that one man should have all that power — and has since married someone more powerful to keep him in check. But baby he lives one hell of a life. — DAN WEISS

7. Liz Phair, Exile in Guyville

(Matador, 1993)

The Rebirth of Girly Sound. Exile in Guyville is Liz Phair’s first full-length work, and her best, exposing the Chicago singer-songwriter at her most biting and bloodthirsty (“I take full advantage of every man I meet / I get away almost every day / With what the girls call murder” in “Girls! Girls! Girls!”), critical and candid (“I bet you fall in bed too easily / With the beautiful girls who are shyly brave” in album opener “6’1”). “F**k and Run” teaches you fantasy, “Never Said” demands respect, “Flower” commands a sexual explicitness previously only known to men on record. It does not ask you to understand it — it doesn’t even consider you. This is the language of a woman who has experienced deep disappointment even when she hasn’t, the language of a new, precise feminism. After basement-tape creativity expires, bands will search for what we once called “indie rock.” They’ll dig out Exile in Guyville, and the glory will be shone upon them. — MARIA SHERMAN

6. Radiohead, OK Computer

(Capitol, 1997)

Not even Radiohead fans were prepared for OK Computer, which took its opening rhythm cues from DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing….. and a song title from Bob Dylan; in case you’re wondering why they’re “back to save the universe” on album three it’s because their scope was wide enough to actually encompass said universe. And sometimes that means writing from the perspective of a bug let down by the world that squashed him. Thom Yorke plays hero simply by enduring the Odysseyan challenges of the everyday: Avoiding the karma police and paranoid androids who electioneer him into various Orwellian dilemmas — car crashes and alien abductions and an abject choir crooning World’s Worst Postcard nominee “We hope that you choke.”

The whizbang Spirograph sonics — Jonny Greenwood’s vomit-comet guitar solos, Phil Selway’s funk-within-grandiosity beats that equally owe Fear of a Black Planet and Dark Side of the Moon — can’t conceal a world that rots and rusts when it ceases being whimsical: climbing the walls scratching for a solution that turns out to be carbon monoxide, the only way to a life of “no alarms and no surprises” that the people-averse Yorke so badly desires. Daydreaming in his metropolis, he awakens to a motorway heckle that every dystopian colonist knows too well: “Hey idiot, slow down!” Ever the ‘90s scolds, the surliest Only Band That Matters ever named their accompanying documentary Meeting People Is Easy because it isn’t. OK Computer married rock and technology for people with two left feet and even fewer social IQ points — a.k.a. everyone. — DAN WEISS

5. The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead

(Sire, 1986)

Despite their hard-earned reputation of being sad-sack mopes at best and virulent, purposefully anti-social misanthropes at worst, what people always forget when discussing the Smiths was how funny they were. Oasis ringleader Noel Gallagher has talked about pissing himself laughing listening to the ‘80s underground heroes and, listening to The Queen Is Dead, well, yeah. This is an album where the narrator assassinates Her Majesty while cracking wise about his lack of piano-playing skills; where the most emotional vocal in the excoriating “Frankly Mr. Shankly” is reserved for Moz calling the titular character “a fuh-laaaa-tu-lent paaaaiiiin in the arrrrrrrse!!!”; where the climactic “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out” — only one of the ten most beautiful songs ever written — is undermined by the true closing statement, the not-misleadingly titled “Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others.”

The Queen Is Dead has influenced generations’ worth of emo kids, indie-pop peddlers, soft-hearted punks, and Latino kindred spirits, and as long as human beings have to go through periods of begrudgingly climbing into an empty bed, it seems like the album forever will. But the pervasive sense of mirth undercutting the misery of The Queen Is Dead is what keeps it from surviving solely as a totem; it’s what makes the ten-track masterpiece an LP that music fans don’t merely nod to in reverence, but sing along to front-to-back at the top of their lungs. Whether it’s Keats and Yeats or Wilde on your side, there’s just no better way to spend a sunny day than at the Cemetry Gates. — ANDREW UNTERBERGER

4. Daft Punk, Discovery

(Virgin, 2001)

Little-known fact: In the summer of 2001, in a sweaty bar in Boston, it was possible to hear guitar-pop smoothie John Mayer singing a bit of “One More Time” during a pre-fame live set. That was a year before LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” wherein another J.M. — James Murphy — self-mockingly boasts of being “the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids.” And this perhaps unlikely seeming pair of examples illustrates the strange alchemy Daft Punk performed with their sophomore album, Discovery: This was electronic dance music for the biggest of tents, not for rock kids or pop kids or even exclusively house or disco kids but rather, calling all kids, of all ages. And pop music — as seen in the dance-y trajectory of the Top 40 in the years since Daft Punk’s triumphant 2006 return to the public eye at Coachella — has been unshakably altered as a result.

Alchemists that they were, the French duo accomplished their masses-unifying feat by turning improbable samples into euphoric bangers. Although occasionally Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter would borrow from such unassailable material as Cerrone’s 1977 disco classic “Supernature,” more often Discovery’s dance-floor gold is wrought from records that less-discerning producers might’ve left on the thrift-store shelf (Barry Manilow?!). Not that dance is Daft Punk’s only mode: On the chillwave-presaging “Face to Face” or the outro to the too-brief “Short Circuit,” it’s the robots’ turn to cry. But what endeared the helmet wearers to Messrs. Mayer and Murphy — let alone Kanye West and Skrillex, or blog-era heirs such as Justice and Phoenix — was their pitch-tweaking, junk-pillaging, and utterly unabashed pursuit of the pleasure principle. No one went harder, better, faster, or stronger at celebrating, one more time and then another. Fitting all that into that famed Coachella set, Daft Punk’s pyramid was under no tent at all, just sky. — MARC HOGAN

3. Prince,  Sign o’ the Times

(Paisley Park / Warner Bros., 1987)

By 1987, Prince had already established himself as the Greatest of All Time, and if he wasn’t the kind of artist who exhales creativity, it might seem like he’s showing off his crown on the stunning Sign o’ the Times. Instead, it’s the Purple One being his royal self, and it just so happens that the album also reasserts why he’s peerless. Difficult not to comment on the f**ked-up state of the world, but Prince had predicted the apocalypse five years earlier in “1999.”

So after acknowledging the obvious in the album opener and title track, he moves on to his areas of specialization: making love and making music with the exact same degree of zeal and intricacy and focus and weirdness. The standouts on this album include the lyrically next level (the sublime “If I Was Your Girlfriend,” on which he toys with gender and relationship dynamics) and the musically indelible (it’s hard to imagine the strutting “U Got the Look” or frenzied “Housequake” not shutting down literally any party). But the biggest marvel of all? For most of the album, this is the work of a one-man band. Dare you to find another king this bad. — REBECCA HAITHCOAT

2. Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)

(Loud/RCA, 1993)

The origin of the Wu-Tang Clan is equal parts street s**t and monomaniacal nerdery. A squad of kung-fu-loving former drug dealers huddle around an outer-borough friend’s borderline-shoddy recording equipment crafting unrepentant raps under the guises of their favorite characters from the films, with actual fight-flick audio spliced right in. It maybe shouldn’t’ve worked. They’re dressed up like actual chessmen in the “Mystery of Chessboxin’” video. What made the Clan formidable (and their eccentricities palatable) was each member’s undeniable grasp on wordplay and storytelling, alongside architect RZA’s minimalist production.

If the kung-fu angle didn’t strike you as a strong pitch, the verses would. From the rabble rousers — “Bring Da Ruckus,” “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F**k Wit” — to mournful fare like “Can It All Be So Simple” and “Tearz,” Ghostface, Raekwon, Method Man, and the rest were captivating songwriters committing hard-luck stories to tape in startling detail. It made Enter the Wu-Tang’s mythology cool and flipped the forbidding expanse of grime enveloping these records into a welcome mat, the doorway to one of the darkest corners of a city full of dark corners. — CRAIG JENKINS

1. Nirvana, Nevermind

(DGC, 1991)

Oh well, whatever, et cetera. Yawn if you want. Showering further praise on Nirvana’s storied, ‘90s-defining second album might feel redundant or safe in 2015, but dismissing Nevermind with an eye roll or cynically rattling off non-descriptors like “overrated” isn’t much more exciting or original.

Of course, moments of fatigue are understandable. Over the past year and change, we’ve seen Nirvana inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; there was the wave of invasive photos that surfaced, depicting not only the trashed Los Angeles apartment that late singer-guitarist Kurt Cobain shared with wife Courtney Love, but also the scene of Cobain’s 1994 suicide; this past November, Sonic Highways — the HBO docu-series created by former Nirvana drummer/head Foo Fighter Dave Grohl — explored the effect that Cobain’s death had on his bandmate; yet another book on the iconic band was published this past March; this month, the first family-sanctioned documentary on the Nirvana frontman — Brett Morgen’s archive-excavating Montage of Heck — premiered on television (again, HBO) following a limited theatrical release. All coverage afforded a band that hasn’t released a studio album in 22 years, whose late frontman’s daughter is now old enough to serve as executive producer on his biodoc.

So, yes, the narrative — trio of punk-rock rats land major-label deal on the promise of some demos, stage an inside rebellion against the record industry, burn out but refuse to fade away — might resemble a tired history lesson at this point. Plenty has been said about how there’s nothing new to be said. But, somehow, the songs themselves (remember those?) retain their spark; shackled to rock’n’roll myth or not, they remain the best batch that a young, naïve, but still-too-smart-for-their-own-good band could possibly offer circa the fall of 1991.

And that was all they needed. Overcorrecting from the photo-negative sludge punk of 1989 debut Bleach, Nirvana knotted radio-ready riffs, ropy bass lines, and cratering drums with strep-throat vocals and smirking lyrics. Ace producer Butch Vig (a.k.a. alt-rock Michael Bay) coated the 12 tracks in blockbuster pedigree, and mixer Andy Wallace condensed to create maximum impact. Nearly a quarter-century later, Nevermind survives not just as a museum piece, but also as a thrilling listen, one born from a group who enjoyed Black Sabbath and the Beatles, who rubbed elbows with the Melvins and Meat Puppets, then eventually got baptized into classic-rock lineage, one generation’s answer to the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

Call it misguided martyr worship or an unwillingness to let go or genuine devotion, but it really is miraculous that Nirvana still stir as much interest as they do — especially at a time when guitar-rock has completely lost its hold of the zeitgeist. That’s not to say that fantastic guitar-rock isn’t being made; this year alone has seen a string of bracing, thought-provoking works by Toronto noisemakers METZ, Seattle-based post-punks Chastity Belt, and Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett — not coincidentally, all of these records, in their own ways, bear a similarity to Nirvana’s own body of work. At the very least, they feel as though they’re the kind of records Cobain, Grohl, and stabilizing bassist Krist Novoselic would champion in interviews.

And that’s another bitter irony: That such a forward-looking band — who used their own time with the press to gush about then-undersung acts; who were equally skilled with hookcraft and art-strangled hideousness; who could bring together a generation- and genre-spanning roster of female performers to lead their own Rock Hall tribute — can only be discussed in the context of looking backward or wondering “What if…” Their story has a tragically definite end, their legacy is locked-in — but it isn’t impenetrable; it deepens with time.

It’s easy to fall prey to nostalgia, to speak in precious whispers when discussing Nevermind. This album is the reason countless musicians — some of them admittedly awful, others legitimately great — picked up their instruments, whatever they may be. This is the record that inspired this writer to become a music journalist. But it’s also easy to give yourself over to the locked-in thrash of “Breed”; to find humor in the cleanly acerbic “On a Plain” (“Love myself better than you / Know it’s wrong, so what should I do?”); to be unsettled by the kidnapping tale in “Polly”; to rejoice in the fuzz-covered, fan-baiting glory of “In Bloom”; to hum along with the somber “Something in the Way.” If you listen, it’s clear why Nevermind and Nirvana meant so much to so many — and still do. — KYLE MCGOVERN

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