Graphs are fun. Here’s a look at Pitchfork’s Top 200 Albums of the Decade, broken down by year.

While poring over Pitchfork’s Top 200 Albums of the year, I got the feeling that 2000 and 2001 were popping up more than any other year. I put together a quick spreadsheet of the numbers of releases per release year. What this chart shows is that, yes, 2000 and 2001 (and 2002) had more albums on the top 200 than other years.

Looking at the dip in top 200 records in 2003 and 2004 led me to my next question: How important were the album releases from each year. To generate the next graph, each album was assigned a value corresponding to it’s ranking on the top 200. For example, Kid A was given 200 p0ints, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was given 197 points. Next, the values for each year were summed and then normalized to 100. So what you’re looking at is the contribution of each year to the best music of the decade.


What we see are that not only did a greater number of top albums arrive at the beginning of the decade but that those albums were on the whole the best of the decade. So, 2000 and 2001 were indeed the most culturally fertile of the decade. Probably the most shocking of all is that these top records, the ones from 2000 and 2001, were ALL released before 9/11.

Let’s try an argument against these albums being ranked so high. You might say, “those albums have been out for almost ten years now, their cultural significance can be fully assessed at this point.” Yes, there is merit to this argument, especially when viewing the contribution of 2008 and 2009′s albums to the best of the decade. However, we still have 2003 and 2004 to address. What happened ? The trend indicates that there was actually a cultural nadir that occurred near the middle of the decade.

Any thoughts on the best albums of the decade or the cause of the cultural nadir in the middle of the decade?


  1. jeff r

    I think some of this can be attributed to Pitchfork’s authorial bias towards records that either (1) had the greatest impact on music that followed, or (2) represented the artistic peak of an artist or genre. Because those attributes become clear over time, it makes sense they’d skew towards old records.

    It follows, then, that there would be a significant drop off after these peaks. Kid A and YHF, for example, stretched their respective genres as far as anyone could take them. It would be interesting to see what records from 2003-2005 ranked, and whether they build on the 2000-2002 genres, or whether they do something new (like Person Pitch). Based on that logic, Arcade Fire’s Funeral, while an excellent record, should not be #2.

    Posted October 2, 2009 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

  2. This is a truly fascinating post, man. Right on.

    Posted October 22, 2009 at 10:28 am | Permalink

  3. Couple of points: One, I’m not sure the release date matters so much re whether records were pre- or post-9/11. Recording dates would seem to be more instructive, no? I mean, if the question is whether 9/11 affected the quality of music made slightly after, we’d really want to look hard at the “best” records from 2002, maybe 2003 – not 2000 or 2001. The only effect 9/11 can really be said to have had on any of those 2000 or 2001 records (since even late 2001 releases would have been recorded months before 9/11) was with Is This It. You may recall that it was set for release on September 11, then had to be pulled so New York City Cops could be replaced with something less inflammatory given the tragedy. But the dip in 2003 and 2004, if it means anything at all – that might well suggest that 9/11 had an effect, as musicians struggled to make sense of the new world the same as politicians and children and everyone else did. That’s possible, but I’m not sure it’s right, because … Two, let’s not forget that there’s a huge problem with treating human beings’ reviews of music as purely scientific data. What Pitchfork thinks of a given record now is probably not what it will think of the same record in time. ( I wrote about this very briefly here: ) They redid their best-of-the-’90s list a couple of years after releasing it, and they’re pretty much telling you they’ll redo this one, too, when they admit they haven’t had time to process 2008 and 2009 yet. ( Hell, process 2009 – they didn’t even wait for it to end! ) I’m interested to see whether the “dip” in 2003 and 2004 will even exist when they reset the list – but there’s one more factor here. Three, remember that taste is by definition personal and therefore subjective, and that this was a decade of tremendous upheaval for Pitchfork itself. The whole site from 2000 to 2009 is transformed; the staff is different; everything’s different. When they do reset the list, it may not even be the same people whose taste is reflected. My personal take: 26 albums from one year down to 20 in another probably isn’t anything worth worrying about. As to the “dip” years, Pitchfork itself cites Funeral ( 2004 ) as possibly the last album ever to unite virtually everyone in gaining praise, and I’d say A Grand Don’t Come For Free ( 2004 ) and Guitar Romantic ( 2003 ) are criminally overlooked and, seeing how they’re kinda the same record, it doesn’t make much sense to have Is This It at No. 7 and Room On Fire ( 2003 ) nowhere in the Top 200. But that’s just me, maybe – again, this is all so terribly subjective. In any event, feel free to check out more of my ramblings at

    Posted December 4, 2009 at 12:57 am | Permalink

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