The 15 best guitar albums of the millenium
15. Childish Prodigy – Kurt Vile
“There’s a man with hands for every finger / Claimin’ he’s a folk singer”
Whenever I hear this unforgettable line from Kurt Vile’s (best) track “Freak Train”, I often wonder if he is singing about himself. The concept of a folk singer, freewhlin’ and playin’ his guitar using a hand for every finger, implies one damn talented guitarist. Listening to Vile play, he could very well have a hand for every finger; the fingerpicking on “Blackberry Song” and “Dead Alive” should nearly be evidence enough. But if that ain’t yo’ jam, if you prefer the harder stuff, check out the obscene rock’n’roll Springsteen-esque guitar on “Hunchback” and “Monkey” or the psychedelic noise on “Freak Train” and “Inside Looking Out.”
14. Relationship of Command – At the Drive-In
Fusing frantic punk energy with virtuosic intricacies, At the Drive-In’s classic Relationship of Command showcases guitar playing of the most frenzied and violent variety. I mean, their disrespect for their instruments is clearly apparent. These guys took what Sonic Youth perfected in the 1980s (punk + noise + intellect = success) and turned it up to 11. Filthy dimished chords crush the listener, extreme and haphazard feedback pierces the eardrum, intricate riffage dizzies the brain.
13. Mirrored – Battles
Nerds unite! Following the rise of post-rock in the 1990s, math rock introduced listeners to intelligent, fast and intricate musicianship. Topping the math rock pyramid, Battles’ Mirrored takes the flowery neo-psychedelia of weirdos like The Flaming Lips and Animal Collective, and filters it through some of the smartest playing of the millennium. Indistinguishable time signatures and freakish flurries of notes – sometimes seemingly looped into infinity – collide throughout, likely to leave the listener confused, amazed and overwhelmed. Do not try this at home.
12. Songs For the Deaf – Queens of the Stone Age
Guitar-nerd guitarists love Josh Homme, and with good reason. Tune in to Songs For the Deaf and your ears will likely orgasm. Homme punches out some of the fattest riffs of the decade on this record - “No One Knows”, “You Think I Ain’t Worth a Dollar…” and “Go With the Flow” are among the obvious choices, but every single track on this thing features gnarly guitar playing likely to cause your balls to shrivel up into your stomach.
11. Innerspeaker – Tame Impala
The surfy and sunny Western Australian coast seems the perfect locale to birth the kind of music perfected by Tame Impala. The slippery flanger and chorus effects circle like waves crashing to the shore, feeling like sun soaking the skin and melting away all troubles. Over the last half-century, Kevin Parker – though heavily indebted to guitarists like Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Jimi Hendix – has crafted his own guitar tone sounding something like a rusty relic of the psychedelic late 60s.
10. Murray Street – Sonic Youth
Murray Street sits high among the best Sonic Youth albums outside of the 1980s. The 2004 album found the veteran rockers reconnecting to the extended experimental jams that punctuated the best moments of their career. Epic, ten-minute masterpieces like “Karen Revisited” and “Symphony for the Strawberry” sound like rediscovered Daydream Nation tracks, while “Radical Adults Lick Godhead Style” is about as filthy as its name, all squeal and frenzy.
9. Flood – Boris
Drone doom legends Boris’ breakthrough record Flood is an oscillation of minimalist and maximalist guitars, all filtered through an intensely druggy and sluggish bent. Opener “I” contorts on a string of delicate notes, gently pulsing and looping into the abyss, moving upon the subtlest of changes. “II” is the most visceral guitar track on the album, comprised of 13 minutes of shameless slowcore soloing undoubtedly accompanied by LSD. “III” is pure doom, waves of sludge, like a flood of caramel syrup, snail through your peripheries, destroying everything in its path. Lastly, “IV” ends the album with pure subtle beauty; a gorgeous 20-minute abyss of atmospheric ambience crafted by infinitely reverberating notes.
8. In Rainbows – Radiohead
Let’s be real, Johnny Greenwood should sit in every musicians list of top guitarists of all time. From their earliest days, Radiohead have filled their records with Greenwood’s wonderful, weirdo bendy riffs, technical fuckery and wholly nuanced flourishes. Behind Greenwood, Thom Yorke and Ed O’Brian fill their sound with atmospheric beauty and percussive playing, resulting in some of the most well realised guitar work in music history. On In Rainbows, Radiohead return their guitars to the foreground, punching out some of the most stellar riffs of their careers on tracks like “Bodysnatchers” and “House of Cards”.
7. The Seer – Swans
Thunderous? Disasterous? All-consuming? Offensive? I juggled adjectives and synonyms, attempting to discern the sound of those Swans guitars. No words suffice, it seems words just aren’t quite big or abrasive enough. And if those guitars could be louder, they would – Michael Gira would see to that. I lost my soul to the guitars on this album.
6. m b v – My Bloody Valentine
Kevin Shields is an alien. His ears hear things regular humans do not hear. On last year’s wonderful, critics poll-topping m b v, Shields showed shoegazers and nu-gazers the world over that even after laying dormant for 20 years, he is still the absolute king of the genre. Loud and effect-laden guitars abound on m b v, particularly on technically baffling tracks like “Who Sees You” and “Wonder 2”. Those lucky enough to witness My Bloody Valentine live would also understand just how serious Shields takes his guitar playing, standing motionless and backed by a wall – yes, literally, a wall – of Marshall amplifiers, Sheilds softly strums his Fender Jaguar (or Jazzmeister), somehow resulting in the beautiful noise the band is best known for.
5. Microcastle – Deerhunter
The opening two seconds of Microcastle, explained: feedbacked tremolo guitars, akin to the sound of smashed glass burst through the speakers, painfully awakening the listener and screaming DEERHUNTER ARE FUCKING HERE. Now that you are awake, you can settle in and enjoy the psychedelic magic guitar show headlined by Bradford Cox and Lockett Pundt. Deerhunter take their guitars everywhere on Microcastle, heralding funky acoustic riffs (“Saved By the Old Times”), ambient experimentalism (“Calvary Scars”), massive walls of sound (“Little Kids”) and balls-out punk rock (“Nothing Ever Happened”, “Never Stops”).
4. The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place – Explosions in the Sky
Guitars flow like a waterfall of pearls. Meticulously crafted with finesse, the kind perfectionists would envy, Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith’s majestically aligned guitars envelope the listener, shrouding them in a sea of beauty. These micro-symphonies effortlessly flow and contort, building and building upon layers of notes and loops, forever bouncing into infinity.
3. Elephant – The White Stripes
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying Jack White’s abilities as an incredible virtuoso guitarist. Influenced by blues greats like Son House and Blind Willie McTell, White’s tone and skill surpasses any other guitar player of the last ten years. Elephant certainly showcases White’s talent best, containing simplistic yet wholly effective riffs (“Seven Nation Army”, “Hardest Button to Button”) and some of his most batshit-insane, face-melting solos (“Ball and Biscuit”, “Black Math”).
2. Turn On the Bright Lights – Interpol
These guys crafted an exquisite and unique guitar album virtually without guitar solos. Daniel Kessler and Paul Banks composed their tracks with complex, down-stroked rhythms and interesting, intertwining harmonies. The guitars on Turn On the Bright Lights combine the post-rock intellect apparent on records by bands like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai, with the simplistic and anarchic approach comparable to 70s punk icons Joy Division and Gang of Four.
1. Is This It? – The Strokes
Of course, it was the guitar album that kick-started a garage revolution. Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr. dueled their murky guitars (few studio effects were used; the band wanted the album to sound like it was produced in the past) against simplistic rhythm and Julian Casablancas’ poetry. Though neither guitarist was virtuosic like their contemporary Jack White, the tone of the guitars and their jerky, punky delivery enabled killer riffs on tracks like “Last Nite”, “Take it Or Leave It” and “Soma” to quickly become guitar student staples. Though the band never again achieved the stratospheric heights reached by this album (few guitar albums will), the influence and importance of this classic record remains unmatched.