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Perfect 10: The Ancient Albums Pitchfork Thinks Are Flawless

We think the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St is one of rock’s most perfect albums. So it was no surprise that Pitchfork crowned the reissue with the coveted 10.0 rating, a rarity for a site so critical its top-rated album of 2009, Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, only scored a 9.6.

We couldn’t remember the last time an album was so highly rated by Pitchfork, so we scoured their archives to put together a list of the 10 most recent album releases and re-releases to earn a 10. Mostly, we found reissues that were at least 15 years old, recorded by such unknown artists as The Beatles and Neil Young. And that makes us wonder whether any of the new music kids are making these days will ever measure up to the classics, even in the eyes of critics roughly their own age. Do you agree with Pitchfork, or do you think they’ve overlooked more recent perfect albums?

1. Galaxie 500 – On Fire
Originally released in 1989, this laid-back album from short-lived late-’80s/early-’90s band Galaxie 500 was reissued this year by Domino Records.

“When new bands play guitar music heavy on reverb and slow in tempo — a combination that drapes tunes in a sublimely druggy dream-pop haze — I can be slow to embrace them. It’s not that there isn’t plenty of good music in this vein being made. It’s that one band, 20 years ago, did this sound so well and with so much personality, they set a difficult standard for newcomers to meet.”

2. Pavement – Quarantine the Past
Pavement’s retrospective, released this year, Quarantine the Past combines some of the band’s well-known hits with rarities, B-Sides and remastered songs.

“The first-ever Pavement retrospective compilation… [provides] a cheap and easy entry point to the band that represents the breadth of their songbook… Fans of the band may look over the tracklisting and wonder why some of their favorites didn’t make the cut, but every song on this thing is an unimpeachable gem, and the collection presents a well-rounded summary of their distinct and varied body of work.”

3. Spiritualized -Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
Spiritualized’s third album, 1997′s Ladies and Gentlemen, was hailed by Pitchfork as the band’s “lone masterpiece” when re-released last year in a limited-edition collector’s box set.

“Bolder than the term Britpop might suggest, more focused than the term psychedelic might imply, Ladies and Gentlemen is one of the great triumphs of the 70-plus-minute CD era. Alternately chaotic and meticulous, thundering and quivering, Ladies and Gentlemen finds power in conflict — between restraint and excess, addiction and isolation, and ultimately, love and hate.”

4. Neil Young – Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere/After the Gold Rush
In 2009, the Canadian rocker re-released his first four albums in two limited-edition box sets.

Everybody Knows was a sort of big bang for Young, a dense moment of creative explosion that saw possibilities expanding in every direction. So its follow-up was anything but a retread. With his newfound confidence, Young was poised to stretch, and After the Gold Rush sounds a bit like an overview of the Great American Songbook but with one guy writing almost all the songs… There’s a reason why it’s the favorite Neil Young album for so many.”

5. The Beatles – Rubber Soul
When The Beatles remastered their entire catalog, Pitchfork reviewed all 14 albums individually. Unsurprisingly, many of the band’s albums earned perfect scores. But, according to Pitchfork, their earliest taste of perfection was 1965′s Rubber Soul.

“[Rubber Soul is] arguably the most important artistic leap in the Beatles’ career — the signpost that signaled a shift away from Beatlemania and the heavy demands of teen pop, toward more introspective, adult subject matter. It’s also the record that started them on their path toward the valuation of creating studio records over live performance. If nothing else, it’s the record on which their desire for artistic rather than commercial ambition took center stage — a radical idea at a time when the success of popular music was measured in sales and quantity rather than quality.”

6. The Beatles – Revolver
The Beatles’ seventh studio album, Revolver saw the beginnings of a shift in the Fab Four’s sound. Featuring influences from the Far East and more musical and lyrical allusions to the drug experience, this record showcased the band’s newfound versatility.

Revolver in the end is the sound of a band growing into supreme confidence. The Beatles had been transformed into a group not beholden to the expectations of their label or bosses, but fully calling the shots — recording at their own pace, releasing records at a less-demanding clip, abandoning the showmanship of live performance. Lesser talents or a less-motivated group of people may have shrunk from the challenge, but here the Beatles took upon the task of redefining what was expected from popular music.”

7. The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band
One of the only Beatles releases not to produce a number one single, this pioneering concept album Sgt. Pepper is nonetheless one of their most significant.

“The record’s reputation and sense of ambition ushered in the album era. Its influence was so pervasive and so instructional regarding the way music is crafted and sold to the public that this is still the predominant means of organizing, distributing, and promoting new music four decades later, well after the decline of physical media.”

8. The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour
Magical Mystery Tour is one of The Beatles’ most experimental albums, oscillating between popular favorites like “All You Need Is Love” and the lesser-known psychedelic jam “Flying.”

“Few of them are anyone’s all-time favorite Beatles songs, only one had a prayer of being played on the radio, and yet this run seems to achieve a majesty in part because of that: It’s a rare stretch of amazing Beatles music that can seem like a private obsession rather than a permanent part of our shared culture.”

9. The Beatles – Abbey Road
The Beatles’ final studio album Abbey Road was the band’s twelfth in less than 10 years. For those counting at home, that makes five Beatles full-lengths that score 10.0 on the Pitchfork meter.

“The Beatles’ story is so enduring in part because it was wrapped up so perfectly. Abbey Road shows a band still clearly in its prime, capable of songwriting and recording feats other groups could only envy. Working for the first time exclusively on an eight-track tape machine, their mastery of the studio was undeniable, and Abbey Road still sounds fresh and exciting 40 years on (indeed, of the 2009 remasters, the improvements and sonic detail here are the most striking).”

10. Radiohead – Kid A
The most recent album on this list, Radiohead’s Kid A: Special Collector’s Editionmakes them the only band of this millennium to rank among classic-rock gods like The Beatles and The Stones. (The album also scored a Pitchfork 10.0, and earned one of music criticism’s most epically rapturous reviews of all time, when it was originally released in 2000.)

“The samples, loops, and beats of Kid A were more than just the patronizing dalliance of a bored band, they were tools used to service the album’s even deeper exploration of OK Computer‘s thesis on identity loss in computerized society. It was, unashamedly, a complete album, one where everything from production to arrangements to lyrics to album art were carefully crafted towards a unified purpose.”