(Illustration by: Dan Henrick)

A.V. To Z is an alphabetical survey of a specific realm in pop culture.

Though we’re only halfway through the ’10s, the ’00s can occasionally seem like a long time ago. (Remember when barely anyone had cell phones? Jesus.) Still, five years is enough time to get some critical distance from a decade, and so 2015 seems like the perfect time to produce this, The A.V. Club’s A.V. To Z list of the best rock bands of the ’00s, from Arcade Fire to Zwan.

The rules this time around: Rock bands only. No solo acts, no electronica, no hip-hop. (We’re saving all that for another time.) A band has to have made a substantial contribution to the ’00s and couldn’t win on legacy. (How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and No Line On The Horizon weren’t enough for U2, in other words.) Majority rules, no ties. The decisions were tough, but we figure they’ll stand the test of time—or at least for the next five to 10 years, when we’ll all probably start hating Radiohead.

A: Arcade Fire

Emerging from Montreal right at the beginning of the ’00s, Arcade Fire is practically the quintessential 2000s band. Combining artistic integrity, insane amounts of members, and albums that muse on death, religion, and what it’s like to grow up in the suburbs, Arcade Fire rode the blog buzz to the top of the indie world with 2004’s Funeral and 2007’s Neon Bible. 2010’s Grammy award-winning The Suburbs and 2013’s Reflektor are also exceptionally solid, but given the parameters of this list, they don’t count toward Arcade Fire’s collective ’00s greatness. [Marah Eakin]

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B: Boris

Boris deserves a mention for guitarist Wata’s chops alone, because holy shit can she shred. Any track on the band’s breakout 2006 album Pink, the record that briefly turned a legion of cardigan-clad Shins fans into headbangers, proves this. Atsuo’s manic drumming, which he somehow manages to accomplish while singing and, during the band’s always-invigorating live shows, yelling “YEAH! C’MON!” every 30 seconds, is also quite impressive. And let’s not forget Takeshi’s double-necked bass/guitar combo. Boris’ technical ability is rendered even more impressive by its refusal to be pigeonholed into any one genre; from album to album, Boris can play metal, drone, psychedelic, ambient, doom, shoegaze, and even pop music. It’s a musician’s band in the way that some comedians are comic’s comics, honing skills through extensive touring and releasing a flurry of albums—most of them okay, some pretty good, and a few of them transcendent—every year from the mid-’90s through today. [Katie Rife]

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Runner-up: Broken Social Scene

A constellation of stars and sons (and daughters) from throughout its native Canada, Broken Social Scene’s revolving-door membership briefly made it cool to throw a dozen-plus musicians on stage and call it “a collective.” But what those imitators frequently missed was the emotional acuity of BSS’ multi-tracked clangor, the big-hearted buzz-saw of “Superconnected,” or the one-two gut-punch of the Emily Haines-led tracks “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl” and “Swimmers.” [Erik Adams]

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C: Converge

When it comes to the world of aggressive music there’s Converge and then there’s everyone else. Active throughout the ’90s, the band’s early material offered only glances of what it would become when the new millennium hit. When Converge finally came into its own in 2001, with the release of its fourth album Jane Doe, the band would set the standard for hardcore, metal, and seemingly every subgenre in between in one fell swoop. Starting the decade with bona fide classic, the band would release three more records in the decade, each one differing in ambition and intensity. 2004’s You Fail Me traded Jane’s claustrophobic cacophony for open space and warmer tones, while 2006’s No Heroes took destructive D-beat and gave it a sludge-metal edge. Yet it would be 2009’s Axe To Fall that saw the band distill all these pursuits, creating its most accessible album in the process. Even though Axe To Fall offers the closest thing Converge has to a crossover hit—the deceptively fun “Dark Horse”—the band never stifles its ravenous bite. After opening with four songs that fly by, Axe slowly pumps on the brakes, entering Tom Waits territory with the eerie piano waltz of “Cruel Bloom” by the album’s end. Reflecting on the band’s career in a review for Axe To Fall, Pitchfork would deem Converge “this generation’s Black Flag.” As flattering as that may be, it’s also a misnomer. Black Flag was great, but one could argue that Minor Threat, Bad Brains, or a handful of others were equally as artful and influential in their time. That’s not the case for Converge. In fact, there’s only one word that accurately describes the Boston-based quartet: peerless. [David Anthony]

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D: Death Cab For Cutie

Though Death Cab For Cutie’s first album, Something About Airplanes, came out in 1998, the group didn’t really get its feet under it until 2000’s We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes. The quartet released a murderers’ row of solid and solidly influential albums after, including 2001’s The Photo Album, 2003’s Transatlanticism, 2005’s Plans, and 2008’s Narrow Stairs, and with their emotive songs and chunky glasses, Ben Gibbard and company pretty much sparked the whole indie-emo movement of the early ’00s. (We’re talking about thrift-store cardigan emo here, not Hot Topic emo.) The group is still churning and just released Kintsugi, but ’00s Death Cab still more than stands the test of time. [Marah Eakin]

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Runner-up: The Decemberists

While Ben Gibbard gazed at his navel, indie-rock kindred spirit Colin Meloy filtered his own bookish sentimentality through a library’s worth of colorful characters—the barrow boys, chimbley sweeps, and crane wives conjured by this writer of fictions and glorified by his posse of theater-kid troubadours. [A.A. Dowd]

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E: Explosions In The Sky

This story has been told before, but it bears repeating: Drummer Chris Hrasky, new to Austin at the time, hung up signs at record stores that read, “Wanted: Sad, triumphant rock band.” He ended up finding three guitarists and forming Explosions In The Sky, an instrumental band so triumphant, sad, and great, it seems a miracle that they can also fill big theaters every time they tour. (See also: Sigur Rós.) Providing much of the music for the Friday Night Lights film didn’t hurt the band’s cause, but that’s only a small piece of a remarkably strong 2000s catalog, particularly 2001’s massive Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell The Truth Shall Live Forever. It had a lot to live up to with that title, and it succeeded. [Josh Modell]

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Runner-up: The Exploding Hearts

The Exploding Hearts lone album, Guitar Romantic, is the first—and, arguably, the last—great power-pop album of its decade. Though the band would cease to exist after a van accident tragedy claimed lives of three-fourths of the band, Guitar Romantic is a testament to the simple pleasures a perfectly crafted rock ’n’ roll record can provide. [David Anthony]

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F: Fucked Up

Nothing about Fucked Up suggests any kind of formula for mainstream success, at least on paper. The Canadian group features a singer with a rasping growl of a voice, releases 18-minute long punk rock songs, and engages in a steady stream of fanzine publications and political agitprop that would put an ’80s hardcore band to shame. Before the band had even released its first record, its profusion of 7-inchs and EPs, combined with a reputation for legendary live shows, had netted it widespread attention and a passionate following. But then came the albums—oh, man, the albums. Fucked Up makes the genre description “post-hardcore” feel like it’s just been waiting for the group to come along and give it a definitive sound. The relentless intensity of 2006’s Hidden World already contained the seeds of a musicality that went far beyond the average 4/4 shout-alongs of the band’s contemporaries. When it was followed by 2008’s The Chemistry Of Common Life, even those who had tried to relegate the group to a punk rock ghetto had to admit that the band was something special. Its music sounds like a fusion of every great punk album played on top of every great rock album, only denser. And judging by the passion Fucked Up incites in just about everyone who’s seen a show, it’s going to be one of the best of this decade, as well. [Alex McCown]

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Runner-up: Frightened Rabbit

This Scottish band didn’t get rolling until 2007 and didn’t get great until 2008, but four words earn it a place here: The Midnight Organ Fight. [Josh Modell]

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G: Grizzly Bear

Amid New York scenesters who began the decade prizing minimalist Strokes-ian jangle and repetitious dance-punk, Grizzly Bear arrived looking like the nerds who spent all their afternoons in jazz band, practicing the mixolydian scale. But soon enough, caring became cool again, and Grizzly Bear was earning fans from Jonny Greenwood to Jay Z with its beautiful, baroquely detailed work. The group’s 2006 album Yellow House and especially 2009’s breakthrough Veckatimest are fussed-over pop symphonies that defy easy categorization—labels like “acid folk” and “neo-psychedelia” have been limply tossed about—but they’re primarily characterized by their meticulous attention to craft, with fluid time signatures, ethereal harmonies, and a tonal range that encompasses pastoral ambience and no-wave dissonance alike. Their only demerit is that they each required several years to make, but Grizzly Bear has long offered testament to the virtues of taking your time. [Sean O’Neal]

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Runner-up: Gossip

Fat, punk, and fiercely feminist, Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto was an ’00s force to be reckoned with. She still is, of course, but commanding albums like 2006’s Standing In The Way Of Control brought lady power to the ’00s forefront with a vengeance. [Marah Eakin]

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H: The Hold Steady

To listen to The Hold Steady—pick a track, any track, preferably one about a party—is to be regaled with the war stories of a dead-end scene. Craig Finn, the poet laureate of Twin Cities debauchery, structures his songs like rambling anecdotes, the musings of a loquacious drinking buddy with dirt on every member of his imaginary clique. But great storytelling is only half of what makes these Springsteen acolytes more than the mere bar band they’ve always insisted on calling themselves. As far back as 2004’s Almost Killed Me, the first of four back-to-back opuses they released last decade, The Hold Steady sounded ready for arenas. No seedy dive is enormous enough to contain the bleary grandeur of “Killer Parties” or the massive chorus of “Massive Nights.” These guys write big anthems about small potatoes, elevating the daily misadventures of boys and girls in America to the stuff of epic sing-alongs. “There is so much joy in what we do up here,” Finn frequently remarks onstage, usually toward the end of an invariably rousing set. The feeling is mutual. [A.A. Dowd]

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I: Interpol

Derided early on as one of many bands aping the moody music and monochromatic fashion sense of late-’70s post-punk, Interpol still did it best and biggest, to the point where it soon had its own legion of imitators. Paul Banks’ placid baritone croon and the simple, rhythmic interplay between bass and guitar may have drawn heavily from Joy Division and The Chameleons, but they also boasted a melancholic grandeur that is uniquely Interpol’s—an interplay that is at once brooding and majestic, soaring and soberly resigned. Listening to “NYC,” off the group’s landmark 2002 album Turn On The Bright Lights, Banks’ elegiac, narcotized voice navigates the city’s bleak subways and dirty sidewalks like an entire shellshocked, detached generation reconciling its post-9/11 emotions. The band may have seen diminishing returns with subsequent albums since then, but Bright Lights alone cements its legacy as one of the defining bands of the decade. Any music supervisor who’s looking to establish that their movie character is living in the ’00s will reach for Interpol first. [Sean O’Neal]

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Runner-up: Isis

Metal was a marathon, not a sprint, for this now-defunct L.A. outfit, whose menacing soundscapes—collected on five peerless LPs, all released in the 2000s—usually sprawled past the seven-minute mark. Only Mastodon, perhaps, could claim a greater dominance over the decade’s extreme music canon. [A.A. Dowd]

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J: The Jealous Sound

Our only other viable “J” candidate for this list was Jimmy Eat World, but why give it to the band that made that era’s emo phase safe for the radio when we can give it to a very similar but decidedly better unknown? The Jealous Sound emerged from the ashes of Knapsack—a band frequently lumped in with Jimmy Eat World—releasing a remarkably strong self-titled EP in 2000. Things seemed great, but more music wasn’t forthcoming: It took three years for a debut album, the also excellent, emo-riffic Kill Them With Kindness, to come out. Then the band splintered, only to reemerge in 2012. A slight turn—of songwriting or luck—might’ve given The Jealous Sound their own “The Middle,” but fate wasn’t having it, so they’ll have to settle for beloved underground secret. [Josh Modell]

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K: The Killers

K is a surprisingly thin letter for ’00s rock bands, with only The Killers and Kings Of Leon really earning any sort of serious consideration on our part. (Kasabian? Kaiser Chiefs? No.) We went with The Killers purely on the strength of singles like “Mr. Brightside,” “When You Were Young,” and “Somebody Told Me,” and because Kings’ “Sex On Fire” is downright annoying. [Marah Eakin]

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L: Liars

Outside of maybe Radiohead, no band has made more stylistic leaps than Liars, or seen a greater artistic evolution. Like Radiohead, the group seemed destined to be a well-liked yet short-lived also-ran when it debuted with 2001’s They Threw Us All In A Trench And Stuck A Monument On Top, just one of many Gang Of Four-worshippers in a scratchy-guitar sea of them. But from that point on, nothing would remain the same for Liars, except its penchant for obtuse album titles. On 2004’s They Were Wrong, So We Drowned, the group reinvented itself as experimentalists in noise, creating a scabrous sound-storm that sanded away its last remaining conventions, and reemerging as a much weirder, far more interesting beast. The hypnotizing Krautrock drone of Drum’s Not Dead then gave way to the post-apocalyptic pop of Liars and Sisterworld, and Liars entered its second decade as one of the most unpredictable and vital artists around—and one that will never be mistaken for anyone else. [Sean O’Neal]

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Runner-up: Low

Low had a transformative decade in the 2000s, from the sweeter, fuller sound of Things We Lost In The Fire to the spookier, more confrontational Drums And Guns. All four records they released that decade were great. [Josh Modell]

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M: M83

We deliberately left electronic artists off this list—that’s for another time—but decided that the French outfit M83 has its toes deep enough into “band” waters that it made sense here. When the group—led by Anthony Gonzalez, who now lives in L.A.—plays live, it can feel like a full-on rock show, even with the gentle, electronics-assisted sounds of excellent 2000s-bred songs like “Kim & Jessie” and “Graveyard Girl.” Both of those songs are from 2008’s Saturdays=Youth, a gorgeous collection that nods to everything from shoegaze to classic British pop to modern electronica, never settling on one thing long enough to be derivative. That was the last of the band’s 2000s albums, a terrific run that also includes the essential Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts and Before The Dawn Heals Us. [Josh Modell]

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Runner-up: Mclusky

Sure, M83 composes beautiful music. But beautiful music is for grownups who drink wine and wear earplugs. Mclusky, on the other hand, rocks. The band dropped three great, reckless, muscular records —Mclusky Do Dallas in particular is one of the seminal albums of the decade—and then it was gone, leaving everyone sweaty, slightly dazed, and grinning like idiots, as a proper rock band should. [Katie Rife]

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N: The National

The brilliant one-two punch of The National’s 2005 and 2007 albums Alligator and Boxer was enough to vault the Brooklyn-via-Ohio band to the top of the brooding indie heap. (And this was after a couple of albums that, while not as majestic, inexplicably led critics to label it alt-country.) But those two records (along with a handful of songs from the earlier releases, specifically “About Today”) defined both the band and a new era of prosperity for thoughtful, touching music that reaches plenty of people but could never really be called mainstream. (See also: Spoon, The Decemberists.) Alligator captures The National at the perfect moment: finding the sound that would define its future, complete with all its side-glancing sadness and dark optimism, and its live shows throughout the ’00s were untouchable, all-out affairs. [Josh Modell]

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Runner-up: The New Pornographers

Virtual unknowns at the dawn of the new millennium, the members of “supergroup” The New Pornographers finished the ’00s as indie-rock royalty, their ascent as swift and propulsive as any of the sticky-sweet power-pop confections on Mass Romantic, Electric Version, Twin Cinema, or Challengers. The combined powers of most valuable Pornographers Carl Newman, Neko Case, and Dan Bejar would be reason enough to put those records in heavy rotation; the fact that they produced songs like “Letter From An Occupant,” “The Laws Have Changed,” and “Use It” made the band a supergroup (no ironic quotation marks necessary) before the decade was out. [Erik Adams]

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O: Of Montreal

Though Of Montreal has gone a little off the rails in this current decade, the ’00s were a golden age for the weirdo act, with albums like 2004’s Satanic Panic In The Attic, 2005’s The Sunlandic Twins, and 2007’s Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? perfectly encapsulating the group’s freak-pop aesthetic. Even with albatross-like monikers, tracks like “Disconnect The Dots,” “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games,” and “Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse” are unassailable, even now. [Marah Eakin]

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P: Phoenix

For years, Phoenix was a well-kept secret, a French quartet playing stylish rock with kitschy leanings in a succession of long shadows. Some of those were of the group’s own making: associations and collaborations with Daft Punk and Air left Phoenix perpetually eclipsed by their fellow countrymen. Others were cast by listeners: With its chiming guitar intro and bleary-eyed romantic regrets, “Long Distance Call” (from 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That) couldn’t help but sound like what The Strokes would’ve recorded after switching from Camels to Gitanes. By the time the spotlight finally found the band, it was able to display something brighter, tighter, and catchier than any of its contemporaries: Preceded by the throwback hum of “1901,” Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix arrived in 2009 to a rapturous reception worthy of its era-defining namesake. The secret was finally out, as the huge choruses of “Lisztomania” and “Lasso” pulled Phoenix’s newfound fans toward the back catalog they’d overlooked just a few years prior. [Erik Adams]

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Q: Queens Of The Stone Age

At full or half strength, Queens Of The Stone Age brought a thrilling stoner stomp to mid-’00s radio. For a while there, they were a bona fide supergroup: two members of the seminal desert-rock band Kyuss, sharing vocal duties with the leader of the Screaming Trees and luring the drummer of Nirvana back behind the kit. Songs For The Deaf, they called the album boasting that all-star lineup; it was as deafening as advertised. But even after frontman Josh Homme gave Nick Oliveri the boot, effectively killing their cool cop/crazy cop routine, and Dave Grohl inevitably returned to his multi-platinum day job, the Queens Of The Stone Age formula remained potent. Maybe that’s because one could still hear, on subsequent records, a phantom madman intensity lurking behind Homme’s jock-lothario swagger, not to mention the imprint of a moonlighting Foo Fighter on hooky singles like “Little Sister” and “3’s & 7’s.” Really, though, the enduring badassery of this band is probably owed less to specific team makeup than to different, uh, influences. Like, say, nicotine, valium, vicodin, marijuana, ecstasy, and alcohol. (Ca-ca-ca-ca-cocaine surely played its part, too.) [A.A. Dowd]

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R: Radiohead

Is there anyone that has a better claim to this letter? Perhaps more than any other band, Radiohead shaped and influenced the sound of rock music in the ’00s. It kicked off the decade by reinventing itself with the superlative Kid A, bringing the kind of universal acclaim and popularity that rarely go hand in hand, and rarer still, Radiohead did it while being defiantly noncommercial. (That sounds strange now that the group has become godfather to an entire generation of rock music, but it’s true.) By the time it almost single-handedly upended conventional music distribution for big artists with the surprise release and “pay what you want” model for 2007’s In Rainbows, it was mere confirmation of what was already well understood: Radiohead changed the face of rock music. It sounds hyperbolic and silly to say so, but it’s not up for debate. [Alex McCown]

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Runner-up: Rilo Kiley

Rilo Kiley thrived on the kind of tension that eventually led to its demise: The push-pull between the band’s big-tent pop instincts and the intimacy of its best recordings; Jenny Lewis’ plainspoken swagger versus Blake Sennett’s retiring singer-songwriter streak. (Though it should be noted: Sennett was also one of the ’00s most underrated guitarists.) While it lasted, the band made some achingly gorgeous recordings about being young and uncertain and alternately fascinated with/horrified by love and death—songs equally suited for primetime soundtracks or campus-crush mixtapes, campfire sing-alongs or festival stages. [Erik Adams]

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S: Spoon

“Consistency” is the word most often affixed to Spoon, and just as no one writes interesting novels about perfectly happy families, no one seems to get all that worked up over a band who delivers a perfect batch of rock songs every single time. But eventually, that respect accrues and everyone else catches on, and for Spoon the ’00s was that rarest of stories: a band that rebounds from major-label disaster and finally gets the acclaim it’s due, simply by hanging on—and by being reliably great, of course. Over the span of four albums, (Girls Can Tell, Kill The Moonlight, Gimme Fiction, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga), Britt Daniel established himself as the master of the coolly effortless pop song, wrapping instantly memorable hooks around an increasingly refined sense of space and sparse instrumentation, all in a manner that sounds as casual as breathing. And with last year’s They Want My Soul prolonging that streak, he continues to do so in a way that suggests Spoon could end up on next decade’s version of this list. [Sean O’Neal]

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Runner-up: Sleater-Kinney

This one was a toughie. Yes, a good portion of Sleater-Kinney’s best records—1996’s Call The Doctor, 1997’s Dig Me Out, and 1999’s The Hot Rock—came out in the ’90s. But the group’s ’00s output—2000’s All Hands On The Bad One, 2002’s One Beat, and 2005’s The Woods—merits close consideration all on its own. Spoon won, but barely. [Marah Eakin]

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T: TV On The Radio

On paper, there’s no way that a band like TV On The Radio should work. The elements of its sound (barbershop harmonies, noisy guitar, sampler loops, funk horns, post-punk shouting) suggest a complete lack of focus; its list of influences and sound comparisons (Bad Brains; Earth, Wind And Fire; Peter Gabriel; Wire; the Pixies) reads like every terrible “Musicians Seeking Musicians” ad in the back of your local alt-weekly. Yet taste, intelligence, and happy accident have long triumphed for the Brooklyn band, and that unusual alchemy has created one of the most idiosyncratic and transcendent groups of the last (or any) decade. The digitally fried doo-wop of 2003’s Young Liars and Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, the more atmospheric and introspective Return To Cookie Mountain, the giddy, post-apocalyptic Prince highs of 2008’s Dear Science—all form an output that is the perfect soundtrack for a confusing, media-mashing age when nothing makes sense anyway. [Sean O’Neal]

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Runner-up: Ted Leo And The Pharmacists

With albums like 2001’s The Tyranny Of Distance, 2003’s Hearts Of Oak, and 2004’s Shake The Sheets, Ted Leo And The Pharmacists brought working-class punk into the ’00s. Tracks like “Me And Mia” and “Timorous Me” are just about perfect. [Marah Eakin]

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U: The Unicorns

The Unicorns were never intended to last. Their debut—and only—full-length album, 2003’s Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, is full of references to death, culminating with “Ready To Die,” which, if not an explicit Notorious B.I.G. homage, has to be a winking, ironic one. The Unicorns were kooky like that, known for their anarchic live shows and for indie-pop that is energetic and playful, if a little bit demented. Their songs bypass traditional verse/chorus/verse structure, but are just as catchy and accessible as any of their more conventional peers, a combination that led to the group’s meteoric (in the indie sphere, anyway) rise on a label heretofore known for noise music. But something so special is also bound to be fragile, and less than two years after their debut the Unicorns broke up, apparently because the stress of touring had driven band members Nicholas Thorburn and Alden Penner apart. [Katie Rife]

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Runner-up: U.S. Maple

Captain Beefheart used to talk about destroying the heartbeat of music, but U.S. Maple sometimes sounded like it didn’t even want there to be a heartbeat to destroy. The band broke down the components of rock, refashioning it into something unfamiliar, bizarre, sputtering, and undeniably compelling. It’s unlike any band on the list—or any list, really. [Alex McCown]

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V: Vampire Weekend

Another band boosted by the blog boom, Vampire Weekend seemed like a bit of a lark at first. A bunch of sweater-wearing Columbia kids seemingly aping Graceland-era Paul Simon tunes, Vampire Weekend both annoyed and enchanted listeners with wordy, reference-heavy tracks like “Oxford Comma” and “Mansard Roof.” Still, the band’s catchy beats and infectious musicality won out, and the group’s self-titled 2008 album remains one of the best records released that decade. [Marah Eakin]

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W: The White Stripes

Though they adhered to a strict visual aesthetic of reds, whites, and blacks, The White Stripes spent the decade playing fast and loose with their sound. At the beginning of the millennium, the duo of Jack and Meg White found themselves lumped in with other “garage rock revivalists,” but broke through to the larger cultural consciousness with a little help from Lego and director Michel Gondry. The music video for “Fell In Love With A Girl” went viral before the world even knew what a meme was and it perfectly captured the band’s appeal: bold and energetic with a lo-fi feel that was intentionally rough around the edges. Each of their five albums released in the ’00s built on the last, channeling the band’s jangly sound through the filter of whatever inspired Jack White at the moment, from folksy jingles (“Hotel Yorba”) to arena rock (“Seven Nation Army”) to mariachi bands (“Conquest”). While The White Stripes officially disbanded in 2011, that thumping kick-drum that carried them to widespread acclaim in the previous decade continues to be the backbone of today’s rock ’n’ roll. [Cameron Scheetz]

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Runner-up: Wilco

There can be only one winner per letter—that makes it more fun—which relegates the creators of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to a runner-up slot. [Josh Modell]

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Runner-up: The Walkmen

The Walkmen deserve to be on this list for anthem-of-a-generation “The Rat” alone. But the band also aged as gracefully as its vintage instruments, creating music that evolved from that song’s moody rock furor into a more refined, wistful introspection, but never lost its impact. [Sean O’Neal]

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X: Xiu Xiu

There aren’t a lot of bands that begin with X, which means that Jamie Stewart and the rotating cast of performance-art types that make up Xiu Xiu—notably Caralee McElroy, Cory McCullough, and Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier—didn’t have a lot of competition. But starting with the masochistic metal-on-metal screech of Knife Play, Stewart and company made a series of records obsessed with extremes both lyrical and musical, skittish, gender-bending compositions that veered between pornographically intimate acoustic confessions, avant-garde experimental noise, and glitchy, synth-laden goth-pop. Stewart could be accessible when he wanted to—the band even had an honest-to-God college radio hit in “I Luv The Valley OH!”—but even its most poppy albums, like 2004’s Fabulous Muscles and 2006’s The Air Force, have an undercurrent of raw, tortured angst. It’s a bipolar approach, matched by lyrics telling of gentle love and brutal violence, desperation, lust, and suicide. Xiu Xiu’s output has become less interesting in the 2010s, but from 2002 to 2008 it had a good run, and not just for an “X.” [Katie Rife]

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Y: Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Beating out acts like Yeasayer, Yo La Tengo, and… that’s about it, Yeah Yeah Yeahs take the Y slot on the strength of albums like 2003’s Fever To Tell and 2006’s Show Your Bones. Frontwoman Karen O really delivers on rollicking tracks like “Date With The Night” and “Y Control,” but also just owns weepers like “Maps.” That song is still absolutely crushing, man. [Marah Eakin]

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Z: Zwan

It probably seems like we’re reaching again, at the end of our alphabetical hall-of-fame, to find something, anything, worthwhile that starts with the letter Z. But there’s an actual case to be made for Billy Corgan’s other band, the one that came and went within the space of a couple years. Remembered, if at all, as a brief stopgap between the death of the Smashing Pumpkins and the affixing of that brand to the singer’s de facto solo career, Zwan was Corgan leading a murderers’ row of alt-rock ringers, among them Slint’s David Pajo and A Perfect Circle’s Paz Lenchantin. Toxic infighting would inevitably doom the group, which Corgan dissolved about a half-a-year after the release of a single album. Which is a pity, frankly, because Mary Star Of The Sea is probably the best collection of songs the frontman wrote since the mid-’90s—a bright blast of tuneful guitar rock, as effervescent as the late Pumpkins material was gloomy. (Think the spirit of “Today” stretched across an entire album.) Zwan may look now like a footnote, but it didn’t sound like one in 2003, when Corgan seemed genuinely rejuvenated, if apparently still impossible to work with. [A.A. Dowd]

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