Klute – Fear of People (2000)
A kid I used to know left this record at my house one day with a bunch of other tunes in around 2000. I had never heard of Klute before, but the name of the album intrigued me, so I threw it on. Instantly I was drawn in by the crisp drums, the lush synths, and the unique sound that Klute always represents. Still pushing the envelope in 2009, I don’t think he has topped Fear of People: minimal yet diverse, beautiful yet with an undercurrent of menace.

Aesop Rock – Labor Days (2001)
Aesop Rock had showed glimpses of brilliance on Music for Earthworms, Appleseed and Float, but Labor Days was the first time the beats came together with concept for an entire full-length, causing swelling in the jeans of hipsters everywhere. “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day put the pieces back together my way” became my theme music for more than a year when this dropped. This is an album with very few weaknesses. Musings on the nature of life and work, truly beautiful portraits of life in New York, battle raps, and the whimsy of the stunning “No Regrets” come together on this album, expanding the artistic palette of hip hop without the accompanying self-consciousness that relegated crews like Anticon to side-show status.

Groundation – Hebron Gate (2002)
Around the middle of the decade I was thrashing reggae non-stop. Chantdown Babylon every Saturday afternoon, More Fire every month at Deep 11, loving everything from Sizzla to Jah Cure to Midnite Band. Groundation appealed to the real music lover in me: a 9-piece band fronted by one of the most distinctive voices in music, singing songs of freedom and spirituality with a blend of joy and righteous anger. More accessible than many of the Caribbean-based reggae artists, they provided the soundtrack to many a recovery session and lazy weekend afternoon. This gets the nod over other Groundation releases thanks to the guest appearance by Con Carlos and the Congos, the overriding theme of war, and the relaxed, floating brilliance of songs like “Babylon Rule Dem.”

Radiohead – Hail to the Thief (2003)
When this was released many long term fans criticised this album, claiming the band’s creative development had stalled somewhere between Kid A and Amnesia, but I prefer it to both those albums. The haunting intro to “Sit Down, Stand Up,” Thom Yorke’s declaration that “something big is gonna happen” on “Go To Sleep,” and the beautiful “Where I End and You Begin” are all classic moments that elevate this record above Radiohead’s other work this decade.

MF Doom – Viktor Vaughn the Vaudeville Villain (2003)
Rap records with cartoon samples had been done before, but none quite on the level of this. When I first copped this album, I listened to it a few times then went interstate for a couple of weeks – by the time I returned I was desperate for another listen. Doom’s word play while telling actual coherent stories on this record is pure genius, with suitably sinister spooky beats setting off the tales of crime and mayhem. People talk about Slick Rick, Scarface, and Biggy as the best story-telling rhymers in the game, but to me none can touch Doom on this record.

Madvillain – Madvillainy (2004)
I didn’t want to include two releases by the same artist on this list, but I couldn’t resist – Doom really could do no wrong for a span of a year or more back around the middle of the decade. Madvillainy is an album full of songs that are great by themselves; together the sum is even greater than the parts. It’s a testament to Doom and Madlib that they can create an album with no theme, full of tracks that barely hold a consistent theme even within the individual track, yet as a whole this stands up as one of the best. The biggest strength of this record is the imagery it conjures up, Doom’s constant stream of quotables teaming with Madlib’s samples and occasional raps to paint vivid pictures that come to mind whenever I hear the words “Figaro,” “Fancy Clown” or “Meat Grinder.”

Kenny Larkin – The Narcissist (2004)
Detroit techno sure changed a lot since Cybotron’s “Clear.” Kenny Larkin took time out from his work as a comedian to throw together The Narcissist, a deep-listening album that highlights Larkin’s sense of humour as well as skill in constructing sophisticated, sensual sounds. Sparse and minimal yet lush and organic, for me the record peaks on “A Part of Me,” a track best listened to while staring confusedly into a mirror after a two day binge (may or may not have happened).

El-P – I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead (2007)
Definitive Jux has had a hell of a decade. Founded just before 2000, the label has seen a string of critically acclaimed releases from artists like Cage, Cannibal Ox, RJD2 and Rob Sonic. The pinnacle came in 2007 when El-P dropped his fourth solo record, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. El took the futuristic throwback hip hop production he developed on Fantastic Damage and perfected it, combined with some of the most complex, thoughtful and original raps ever written. Every time I listen to this record, as the last strains of “Poisenville Kids” fade out, I’m left feeling empty, as though nothing I listen to next is going to come close.

Fanu – Daylightless (2007)
D&B was the genre I listened to most over the last 10 years, but trying to identify a full album that has the consistency and durability of some of the great 90’s releases is tough. The one I’ve settled on couldn’t be more different stylistically from those classics – where Adam F’s Colours and Goldie’s Timeless conjure up images of sun filled cafes and cruises along Beach Road, listening to Fanu’s Daylightless is more like walking through a city minutes after a volcanic eruption has buried the dwellings and citizens in tonnes of ash and molten rock.

I remember one Friday night at around 2am on the way to Mount Hotham, halfway up the mountain I popped this in the deck. Outside of the car was black, with ghostly white tree shapes looming suddenly from the dark and snow falling heavily. Daylightless was the perfect soundtrack. After about 30 seconds my mate turned to me with a grin and said “this music…you planned this didn’t you.” A resounding endorsement if ever I’ve heard one!

Erykah Badu – New Amerykah Part One (Fourth World War) (2008)
I always thought Badu had a soulful voice and demeanour, but I first started really taking notice of her lyrics after hearing her on “Liberation” off Outkast’s Aquemini album, where she rips on fame and life in the music industry. New Amerykah Part One takes things a step further, with deeply personal and political poetry unheard of from a mainstream female R&B / pop singer. The force of the lyrics is matched by the understated power of the backing music – a blend of funk, soul, hip hop and jazz that rewards repeated listens. This is not a mainstream album by any stretch of the imagination, yet somehow experienced relative commercial success.

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