Arcade Fire - "Funeral" (2004)
Anthemic. The things that I might find extraneous in the indie era since "Funeral" -- strings and tea kettles and such -- add to the percussion and guitar without being distracting. Just really, really, super good from start to finish.
Elliott Smith - "Figure 8" (2000)
Technically, this is my third-favorite Elliott Smith album, after "Either/Or" and "XO", but I listen to "Figure 8" more than any other of his works. It's louder and messier then the other albums, and songs like "Stupidity Tries" and "LA" can be enjoyed at a high volume, and the lyrics are interesting without being soul-crushing. Of course, there's soul-crushing material here, too ("Everything Reminds Me of Her", "I Better Be Quiet Now", "Can't Make a Sound"), but the ratio of fun to sad is more palatable for me. With other Smith albums, I have to strap in and prepare myself for the goosebumps. I can relax and sing along with a lot of "Figure 8".
The Polyphonic Spree - "Together We're Heavy" (2004)
Dave describes this album as having a lot of "Meatloaf moments", which is a compliment to Dave and an insult to me. Yes, it does have Meatloaf's dramatic flairs, but it's also ambitious and orchestral, two words that surely don't describe Meatloaf's music. "Never the subject of terrible karaoke" would also fit one but not the other.
The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinema" (2005)
An Onion AV Club year-end article listed "All for Swinging You Around" as a favorite song of 2003, and there was a locally-produced music show that featured them airing around that time, so I bought "Electric Version" at Best Buy and started listening to The New Pornographers. I still can't believe I came to like one of their albums more than that first one I picked up, but you can't listen to "Use It" or "Broken Breads" at high volume without knowing it's their best. (And that's not even accounting for "The Bleeding Heart Show", which is so good it makes me want to burn my degrees and start over at the University of Phoenix.)
Spoon - "Gimme Fiction" (2005)
Many best-of-the-decade lists I've seen mention a Spoon album or two, always mentioning something other than "Gimme Fiction". I'm not including it to be contrary -- it just happens to be my go-to Spoon choice, very slightly ahead of "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga".
Travis - "The Man Who" (2000)
There seems to be disagreement if this fits in the decade or not, due to British vs. US release dates. Travis now seems culturally out of place. Their sound wasn't ahead of its time, but the world wasn't quite ready to love them in 2000. Coldplay rose a few years later and took the spotlight. If Travis could have slipped in after them, they might have been bigger. Like, Snow Patrol big. Like the others on this list, "The Man Who" has little if any filler ("She's So Strange" could be better.) "Writing to Reach You" is impeccable, and it's got a nice guitar solo, and just typing that made me put on my headphones to listen to it.
The Shins - "Chutes Too Narrow" (2003)
I don't remember exactly how it happened, but I bought this and they soon became my favorite band. Let's take a moment to reflect on how rarely someone that occurs. (For the record, My Favorite Band started as Nirvana. Kurt killed himself, so I chose Urge Overkill. They broke up, and were replaced by Ben Folds Five, who also broke up, and were replaced by Elliott Smith, who also killed himself. That's when My Favorite Band became The Shins. Although, due to their recent lineup adjustment and lack of production, Spoon has tied them. Meanwhile, if you asked Jack Serpentine to write his version of this parenthetical passage, he'd just type "Pearl Jam, 1991-current". Sometimes I'm envious and sometimes not.)
White Stripes - "White Blood Cells" (2001)
I have to pick between this and "Elephant", unless there is a surf and turf option to these lists I'm not aware of. On one hand, I have deleted the digital versions of three songs from "White Blood Cells", because there is no situation where I am ever excited to hear "The Union Forever" (the ultimate killer to Corinne's "track #7s are the best" rule), "I Think I Smell a Rat", and "Aluminum". The only songs I ignore from "Elephant" are "Little Acorns" and "Well It's True That We Love One Another". Simple arithmetic dictates "Elephant" should be on this list (as does "Black Math", which rocks everyone's balls off forever), but rock is all about what's in your heart, not your head, or Archimedes' head!
Coldplay - "A Rush of Blood to the Head" (2002)
Haters gonna hate, but it's really, really great. Maybe if things continue on their current course and Coldplay becomes their generation's U2, all the cool critics will look back and decide this album was their "The Unforgettable Fire", the gold standard of their "way back when they were good" period.
The Fiery Furnaces - "Blueberry Boat" (2004)
How odd is this album? It's 76 minutes long. The songs under 5 minutes long are somehow less awesome than the ones longer then 5 minutes. Listening is like getting an awesome BJ from a dictionary -- I haven't counted, but there are probably 6,700 lyrics packed into "Blueberry Boat". (I just put the lyrics into MS Word: 4,408.) And these aren't verse-chorus-verse repeat lyrics. They range from onomatopoeia (Plume bloom bloom baby bloom / cheep cheep beep bee-bee beep) to exotic proper nouns (Tea time at Damascus computer café / I’m looking busy and staring off the other way / Arsenal, Inter, Leeds v Valencia / I’m over-hearing all their nonsense in extensia) to "give me kisses, give me kisses, give me kisses, don't say no", phrases which would be unremarkable if they weren't sung in Eskimo language (Canyglow, canyglow, canyglow / don’t say nugo). It's insane, and it's insanely good.
Secret Machines - "Now Here is Nowhere" (2004)
Sleater-Kinney - "The Woods" (2005)
Jenny Lewis & The Watson Twins - "Rabbit Fur Coat" (2006)
Tilly and the Wall - "Wild Like Children" (2004)
Ben Folds - "Rockin' the Suburbs" (2001)
Death Cab for Cutie - "Transatlanticism" (2003)