To see what ranked 25-21, click here.
20. Elliott Smith – Figure 8 (2000)
Completing the move toward more ornate instrumentation that began with 1998’s XO, away from the stripped down acoustic sound of Smith’s earlier albums, Figure 8 was the last album that would be released in Elliott Smith’s lifetime. Smith’s 2003 suicide casts a pall over his whole career, and this album is no exception. You can’t listen to songs like “Everything Means Nothing to Me” or “Easy Way Out” and think that Smith used them as an outlet, because the man was obviously haunted by demons that he was incapable of escaping. Here’s hoping that his music helps others find the solace that he was missing.
Sample Track: “Everything Means Nothing to Me”
19. Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005)
Once you get past the idiosyncratic yelping that characterizes the vocals of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, this album reveals itself as a wonderfully kinetic indie rock record worthy of all the pre-release hype surrounding the band. It doesn’t take much to detect all of the band’s that influenced Wolf Parade, a little Bowie here, a little Pixies there, with a significant helping of Modest Mouse thanks to the production of Isaac Brock. The results are a frenetic blend of those sources, that come together in an album that somehow maintains an edge of optimism amongst all the surface anger of songs like “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son”, “Grounds for Divorce”, and “Same Ghosts Every Night”.
Sample Track: “You are a Runner and I am My Father’s Son”
18. Broken Social Scene – You Forgot It In People (2002)
Shambolic. Busy. Freewheeling. Creative. Majestic. Transcendent. The Canadian collective known as Broken Social Scene expanded to ten members plus guests for this album, and set out to make the sort of pop soundscapes that Brian Wilson once went insane trying to find. With the idea that there’s always room for one more, be it guest vocalist, layer of instrumentation, or a fifth or sixth guitar, You Forgot It In People is a testament to the power of pop music when created by a united group of gifted individuals. It’s indulgent in the best way, with instrumental interludes crashing into hectic rock songs which give way to slow songs of stunning beauty.
Sample Track: “Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl”
17. Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2006)
The best voice in indie rock put together an album worthy of her talent from beginning to end. From the sleepy intro of “Margaret vs. Pauline” to the haunted “Hold on, Hold on” to the power of “Maybe Sparrow” and the gospel jubilance of “John Saw That Number”, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood is a collection of a dozen songs that highlight Neko Case’s beautiful voice. That voice has been there for years, but this time her songwriting and production is more than equal to the task, resulting in an album with timeless appeal.
Sample Track: “Star Witness”
16. Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2008)
The reason you’ll read about the making of this album whenever it’s discussed (Justin Vernon isolated himself in a Wisconsin cabin over the winter following the disbanding of his band and breakup with his girlfriend) is because it completely informs the album (and it’s a pretty cool story). Everything from the sparse instrumentation to the haunting layered falsetto is evocative of a frosty winter of isolation, making For Emma, Forever Ago my go-to album on chilly mornings when the sun refuses to come up and the bus takes its sweet time arriving. But beneath the frigid exterior, there’s a deceptive warmth to the album, with tracks like “Skinny Love” and “For Emma” serving as the fire that staves off the winter chills.
Sample Track: “Flume”