Top 25 Overlooked Albums of the Past Decade

top25_flaminglipsWe all have them. Those albums that we prize high above all others and feel make up some small, but significant  portion of our life soundtrack. Unappreciated, slighted, selling for .01 on Amazon…these are the CDs that PLAYBACK:stl's staff voted as the most overlooked albums of the last decade. The lists were compiled and those albums with the most votes make up our Top 25 (we allowed some extra space for a few of the near misses). Of course, readers may look at this and see names like the Flaming Lips, Andrew Bird and Our Lady Peace who have certainly sold a few CDs in their day. However, this is for all those CDs that should have sold more, should have registered more with the music-buying public. At least according to our staff. We are sure you have your own list, and you can certainly share them with us, but for now, this is our Top 25. 

 

 

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  PROJECT 86: DRAWING BLACK LINES
ATLANTIC 2000

 KENT: ISOLA
RCA 1997
 JAY-Z: REASONABLE DOUBT
Roc-A-Fella Records 1996

 ENON: HIGH SOCIETY

TOUCH & GO 2002

 

 CIRCULATORY SYSTEM: S/T

CLOUD REC. 2002

 

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 SPARKLEHORSE: IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
EMI 2001
 ANDREW BIRD: THE MYSTERIOUS PRODUCTION OF EGGS
RIGHTEOUS BABE 2005

 NO KNIFE: HIT MAN DREAMS
TIME BOMB 1997

 BLUEBOTTLE KISS: DOUBT SEEDS
NONZERO 2006

 OUR LADY PEACE: SPIRITUAL MACHINES
COLUMBIA 2000

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JIMMY EAT WORLD: CLARITY
CAPITOL 1999
 

FLAMING LIPS: THE SOFT BULLETIN
WARNER BROS. 1999

 

HUM: DOWNWARD IS HEAVENWORD
RCA 1998

 

STRATFORD 4: LOVE AND DISTORTION
JETSET 2003
 

MENOMENA: I AM THE FUN BLAME MONSTER
FILM GUERRERO 2004

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CLEARLAKE: CEDARS
DOMINO 2003
 

MIRANDA SOUND: ENGAGED IN LABOR
STANDARD 2002
 

ATHLETE: TOURIST
EMI 2005
 

R.E.M.: UP
WB 1998

 

ELBOW: LEADERS OF THE FREE WORLD
V2 2005

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MODEST MOUSE: THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST
UP 1997
 

SLOAN: BETWEEN THE BRIDGES
MURDER 1999

 

EXTRA BLUE KIND: THE TIDE AND THE UNDERTOW
OPULENT 2005
 

COLONY: WHO I WANTED TO BE
BEYOND 2001
 

DISMEMBERMENT PLAN: EMERGENCY & I
DESOTO 1999

 

1. Dismemberment Plan:  Emergency & I (1999, DeSoto)
Originally slated to be the band's major label debut, Interscope suddenly dropped the indie rock quartet for more "radio friendly" options.  Releasing their masterpiece on Desoto Records, the album might have been under the radar of a larger audience, but speaks volumes about the band's talent.  Emergency & I introduces the odd time signatures, dance effects, and indie rock attitude that many bands love to use today, but at over five years old, the D-Plan had everyone's number before they knew how to count.  With songs like "Gyroscope" and "I Love a Magician", they set the bar might high for musicianship.  With songs like "Back and Forth" and "You Are Invited", the band brought a party atmosphere to the forefront, forcing people to dance.  Emergency & I is a nonstop display of indie rock perfection, with all the elements in place. | Chris Schott 

3. Extra Blue Kind: The Tide and the Undertow (2005, Opulent)
As calming as it is danceable as it is powerful. Twelve thoughtfully rich pop songs that make you yearn and burn with such subtlety and grace, this complete album radiates the golden songwriting that we want to believe still exists. | Nate Dewart

4. Sloan: Between the Bridges (1999, Murder)
This career best (topping their previous album, the knockout Navy Blues, only by virtue of divine track sequencing) was split evenly between Sloan's four members (writing/singing three songs each), who somehow managed to combine four distinct songwriting styles into a single coherent album of sublime, multilayered pop. Seventies crunchy guitar pop rarely "Whooo!"'s this good. | Brian McClelland

6. Elbow: Leaders of the Free World (2005, V2)
It is no secret that Elbow holds a special place in my heart. They were the second cover of PLAYBACK (2002). They opened for Pete Yorn and rendered his performance a non-entity simply by being brilliant. Overlooked can describe each of the three Elbow albums to have appeared in the U.S. Asleep in the Back, Cast of Thousands, and now Leaders of the Free World have come and landed with a dull thud. The band draws a small but dedicated crowd when playing around the States, but in interviews you can tell their hearts are not in it. Why play here when you can play to tens of thousands in your native land? Leaders offers everything the band is famous for—sweeping music surrounding perfectly crafted lyrics that offer equal parts love and venom. Guy Garvey, the lead singer and chief songwriter is never afraid to bleed on his albums and this one is a doozy. Lost lovers, loyal friends, and hideous politicians (the title track, of course) all ramble through this album…and Garvey’s aim is always true. The effect is often like having a nice chat followed by a big hug. Elbow is the warmest blanket on the chilliest night. | Jim Dunn 

7. R.E.M.: Up (Warner Bros., 1998)
Forced to take a new direction after the departure of drummer Bill Berry, R.E.M. chose to go in every direction at once, stretching from the bleeping electronics of "Airportman" to the gentle organ hum of "Falls to Climb." The result: the most varied and adventurous album in the band's storied career. | Jason Green

It's inexplicable that this diverse recording met with indifference by many fans. Drummer Bill Berry's departure forced R.E.M. to alter its creative methodology, resulting in unconventional arrangements, introspective songwriting and some of Michael Stipe's most emotive, nuanced vocals ever. Memorable songs abound, such as "Suspicion," "Hope," "Walk Unafraid" and "Why Not Smile." Definitely Up there, quality-wise. | Kevin Renick

11. Menomena: I Am the Fun Blame Monster (2004, Film Guerrero)
You'd think that a group writing its own computer program to assemble an album would receive a bit more press. But it's not just a gimmick that people are missing out on. Menomena's debut cuts just the right balance between live warmth and artificial precision, with that inimitable production style carving out its own niche in an increasingly derivative music scene. |Jeremy Goldmeier

This album is a quilt of jumbled, gleeful post-modern quandaries that conjure fantastical chase scenes and upside-down pondering. It is a knockout because it is so fearless, so familiar and clear, and so organically genuine. It will be overlooked until everyone in the world has heard it. | Nate Dewart

13. Hum: Downward Is Heavenward (1997, RCA)
After gaining surprise success with 1995's "Stars," the Champaign, Ill., quartet's follow-up lacked a song to send to radio, resulting in the album selling a paltry 38,000 copies in its first two years. What listeners missed was a majestic rock masterpiece, packed with the kind of churning, massive guitar epics Billy Corgan could only dream of making. | Jason Green

14. The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999, Warner Brothers)
While most people look toward Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots as the Flaming Lips' seminal album of the past decade, that inclination tends to dwarf the less praised but equally compelling The Soft Bulletin.  With eye-widening tracks that make you feel like you've been enveloped in a womb of sound, this album is the perfect complement for any intimate affair—preferably with those who appreciate music as much as you do. | Anne Valente

15. Jimmy Eat World: Clarity (Capitol, 1999)

It was their 2001 album known, however briefly, as Bleed American and its omnipresent single "The Middle" that turned the Mesa, Ariz., quartet into a household name, but it was its predecessor, Clarity, that laid the groundwork. Where American was packed with concise punch-to-the-gut pop, Clarity saw the band spreading beyond the emo-punk of their first releases to create songs packed with textures and layers. Sometimes their goals exceed their grasp, as on the 16-minute, circular ballad "Goodbye Sky Harbor," but it's on songs like "Believe In What You Want" and the moderate radio hit "Lucky Denver Mint" that the band first constructed the brilliant pop that would become fully realized, and fully recognized by the public, just two years later. | Jason Green

16. Our Lady Peace: Spiritual Machines (2001, Sony)
Best known for grunge anthems like “Superman’s Dead,” the Canadian quartet reached into heady territory with this concept album based on the Ray Kurzweil book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence, mixing the author’s paranoid sci-fi fantasy into full-on rockers (“Right Behind You (Mafia)”) and tender ballads (“Life”) to create the band’s most eclectic work to date. | Jason Green

Based on a Ray Kurzweil book, this post-Clumsy, pre-Bob Rock masterpiece concept is a frightening reminder of not only the dangers of advancing technology, but of how good OLP can be when they want to. It's a testament to the beauty of humanity, with "In Repair" serving as the cornerstone. | Aaron Brummet 

17. Bluebottle Kiss: Doubt Seeds (2006, Nonzero)
This might be the most incredible, adventurous, sprawling, epic, classic, brilliant album-er, double album-of the last decade. All those adjectives aren't meant to scare you off, but to inspire you to investigate. I first discovered this Australian quartet four years ago, on the first of two U.S. releases on a small label. I fell in love with the music instantly. At times hesitant and quiet, other times grand and cacophonous, Bluebottle Kiss-both instrumentally and vocally-is both symphonic and rocking. The more you listen, the more the genius of primary songwriter and vocalist Jamie Hutchings is apparent. Though each of their releases is a gem within itself, 2006's Doubt Seeds has more than raised the bar-it's shattered the glass ceiling. Hutchings obviously immersed himself in the classics (Coltrane, Waits, Morrison, et al), stripping them down to the elements of their composition and then crafting his own magical compositions with the pieces. Doubt Seeds is currently available only as an import, an injustice that will hopefully be remedied soon. Bluebottle Kiss deserves to be a household name and take its place in the pages of music history. | Laura Hamlett

18. No Knife: Hit Man Dreams (1997. Time Bomb Recordings)
No Knife was emo. No Knife was punk rock. No Knife was post punk. Or perhaps, they were math rock. Truth be told, the San Diego quartet was all these things and probably more. If asked what they sounded like, the most accurate response would have been, "Well. They sound like, uh, No Knife." Featuring the friendly and endearing vocals of Mitch Wilson, the spot-on drumming of Brian Desjean, plus the incredible guitar interplay of Wilson and Ryan Ferguson, their second LP Hit Man Dreams was nothing short of a revelation. With their impeccable ability to write infectious and memorable pop songs in the guise of the genres above, Hit Man Dreams marked No Knife's apex and is one of the best indie-rock records ever. What makes No Knife and Hit Man Dreams so damn good is the song-craftsmanship. The transitions throughout the songs and the frequently soaring choruses make HMD unforgettable. From the mathy "Your Albatross" to the record's final track, the disc never drags with a track that is less than stellar. Hit Man Dreams' launch in the stratosphere commences with the 17-second bass introduction to the title track. With an amazing melody, the song isn't just the best track on the disc; it's one of the best songs ever pressed to vinyl. The rest of the album isn't all that far behind. Simply, one of the most original records to emerge from the underground, Hit Man Dreams is as fresh now as the day it hit the streets. | David Lichius

19. Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production of Eggs (2005, Righteous Babe)
The absolute wonder and unclassifiable nature of this document – a whimsical, luscious ocean of imagination – makes this album an overlooked chart topper. Bird defines the word ‘musical scientist,' and every time I listen to this production of eggs, I am entranced by the mystery he is celebrating and manifesting. | Nate Dewart

21. Circulatory System: s/t (2002, Cloud Recordings)
The death rattle of the Elephant 6 collective is this, an epic album that takes everything everyone loves about the E6 bands (most notably Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control)-psychedelic lyrics, crazy instruments, etc.-and makes them all much darker and more foreboding. The final line, "We will live forever and you know it's true," will haunt you for some time. | Pete Timmermann

22. Enon: High Society (2002 , Touch & Go)
"High Society" marks a sundering of all of indiedom's disparate subgenres into one almighty coalition force. It wasn't the first time that an indie band genre-hopped, but Enon did it more nimbly than anyone else. Encompassing the ever-familiar Pavement guitar crunch, giddy electro-pop, and the sighing majesty of the title track, this album plays like the über-hip mix CD that you've always wanted to give to your significant other. | Jeremy Goldmeier

23. Jay-Z:  Reasonable Doubt (1996, Roc-A-Fella Records)
"Reasonable Doubt," Jay-Z's 1996 debut, is starting to get the attention it deserves. The 14-track documentary on hustling in the streets of Brooklyn is one of Hip-Hop's greatest moments, a honest report on the illegal life he lives. A seriously crucial listen if you like good music. | Sam Levy

25. Project 86: Drawing Black Lines (2000, Atlantic)
It was tough to find good hard music at the turn of the century. Yet, somehow, amid the wave of "nu-metal" clones, Project 86 unleashed their magnum opus, one that not only rocked hard, but was poetic, insightful, and sincere. The album had something to say, and said it well. | Aaron Brummet

 

 
Voted for but didn't quite make the Top 25
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American Football: s/t
Ah, Mike Kinsella—how wonderful you are.  Not only did you bestow sweetly profound bliss upon your listeners as Owen and with The Owls, but you also gave us a reflective precursor to those projects with American Football.  Short-lived but deeply thoughtful, this little shooting star of an album made an entire generation fall in love with love. | Anne Valente

Brave Saint Saturn: The Light of Things Hoped For
Honest. Clever. Outrageous. This album is space rock at its finest (though really, when is space rock not fine?), particularly the goosebump-inducing duo of "Estrella" and "Heart Still Beats." Reese Roper is a certified nut, and anything with his name on it deserves at least a listen; this deserves repeats. | Aaron Brummet

Eltro: Velodrome (Absolutely Kosher)
These visionary Philadelphia drone-pop purveyors missed the internet/blog-fueled hunger for inventive electronica by just a bleep-PING. Velodrome showcases lush, sparkling, multi-layered grooves topped with Diana Prescott's subtly alluring vocals. "Niagara," "Escaping Flatland" and "Denver International" are just a few of the mesmerizing gems here. It coulda been a contender. | Kevin Renick

Matthew Good: In a Coma: 1995-2005 (Universal Canada)
The reason Matthew Good's not a household name in the United States is because, well, Universal didn't try very hard. At home in his native Canada, he's a rock star. But here in the States Universal gave him just one release-2001's Beautiful Midnight with the Matthew Good Band-with everything before and since available as import-only. Because it's hard to pick just one Good album to highlight, I went with the collection, last year's In a Coma, which spans ten years of Good's band and solo career. Listening to it, you hear not only the commercial potential but also the intelligence and thought behind the music. Good's arrangements are inspired, whether he's all out rocking or stripped down with strings. His voice can go from a roar to a whisper thin vibrato; it's that smooth. And the lyrics will give you something to chew on, indeed. Good's a reluctant rock star, to be sure, but there's no denying his musical genius. | Laura Hamlett

Ho-Hum: Sanduleak (1997) It wasn't until after this Little Rock, Ark. band's major label debut/misfire (with Elvis Costello and Morrissey's production team, no less) and subsequent dismissal that genius struck with their self-produced indie follow-up, Sanduleak, the definitive collection of brothers Lenny and Rod Bryan's sad gas-station-attendant pop songs. Nearly ten years and several critically acclaimed self-releases later, Rod's currently running as an independent in the upcoming Arkansas gubernatorial election, no shit. | Brian McClelland

Invert: s/t
After Kronos Quartet's scary, Psycho-like soundtrack for Requiem for a Dream, I was left craving more music from a string quartet that would scare the hell out of me. There are surprisingly few modern recordings that fit the bill, but Invert, a string quartet that has two cellists instead of two violinists, really hits the nail on the head with their debut LP. | Pete Timmermann

Wyclef Jean : Welcome to Haiti Creole 101
The artist is not overlooked but this album is, by me and by many. It demonstrates Wyclef's tremendous depth and his cultural and linguistical sophistication, with delightfully celebratory, hoppin' Carribean anthems. The brilliance of the song "President," is enough to warrant this album's placement. | Nate Dewart

The Juliana Theory: Deadbeat Sweetheartbeat
TJT lost plenty of support after a couple of disappointing releases. But Deadbeat, their swan song, was easily a "comeback of the year" contender, and possibly their best album. Full of driving guitars, heartfelt passion, and the sarcasm that trademarked their finest moments, it should be on everyone's radar. | Aaron Brummet

Little Brother: The Listening (2003, ABB Records)
It didn't make the list, but Little Brother's "The Listening" is the brightest bright spot in the last five years for Hip-Hop. The North Carolina trio put together a soulful, original hip-hop album that channels Tribe and De La Soul. No big booty bitches, cocaine dealings or Cadillac Escalades included. | Sam Levy

Rival Schools:  United By Fate
A supergroup of sorts, Rival Schools consisted of members of such legendary punk outfits as Gorilla Biscuits, Quicksand, CIV and Youth Of Today.  Their only LP, United By Fate, sounded like a grunge on punk orgy with the perfect hooks and vocals (by the amazing Walter Schreifels) to make it radio friendly and tasteful at the same time.  Sadly, the band broke up in 2003 after only one album, limiting their time to get noticed by many people.  United By Fate still stands up as an amazing album by a short lived band. | Chris Schott

The Unicorns: Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (2003, Alien8)
The Unicorns, ala their spiritual godfather Biggie Smalls, seemed to sense that they were a doomed act from the start. Loosely organized under the thematic heading of "personal mortality," this cracked set of lo-fi gems crammed in enough hooks to sustain a decade-long discography. A sonic mixture this unstable, unfortunately, could never last beyond one album. Thank goodness Islands are forever. | Jeremy Goldmeier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Laura Hamlett 467 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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