1. Sufjan Stevens, Illinois (2005)
Illinois, an epic 22-song masterpiece with the titular state as inspiration, confirmed Sufjan Stevens’ complete control of his musical abilities. Shifting from jaunty pop (“Chicago”) to heartbreaking ballads (“Casimir Pulaski Day”), often within the space of a single track, Illinois remarkably never felt disjointed or uncontrollably ambitious. Stevens treated all of his lyrical subjects (the Sears Tower, murderer John Wayne Gacy Jr., etc.) as equally personal, no matter how villainous or inanimate; the result led to a set of remarkably specific yet all-encompassing songs. Arriving as it did, at the halfway point of the 2000s, Illinois mirrored the world as it existed in the year 2005: a little scattered, a little bruised, but ready to stand together and see through the rest of the decade.