It's been 2010 for over a month now, but it just hit me a few days ago: the 2000s are the first ten years that our generation can truly claim. Yes, we were alive in the nineties but our parents were still changing our diapers when Never mind came out. In contrast, the decade of the 2000s (the aughts?) is much easier for us to recall; we all remember the Y2K hype, the advent of the iPod and, recently, the death of the King of Pop.

Many important things happened to the music industry during this decade. Two of the most drastic were the widening of the cultural gap between independent labels and major labels and the MP3 boom that revolutionized the way music was created, released and consumed.

Musically, there was no single dominant genre of the decade; the term "pop" basically became a vacuous term that could be used to describe hip-hop, electronic, rock music, or anything in between. But throughout the musical onslaught that was the first decade of the 21st century, there was one band that reigned supreme: Animal Collective.

Way back in the year 2000, a band from Baltimore released an album on their own record label. Spirit They're Gone, Spirit They've Vanished, Animal Collective's debut, is an album bursting at the seams with ambition. Aside from containing some fantastic songs ("April and the Phantom," "Chocolate Girl"), Spirit showed anyone willing to listen that this was a unique band with a bright future. Few, however, could have predicted the unique sound that Animal Collective would go on to create.

After experimenting with bizarre song structures and instrumentation (see Here Comes the Indian), Animal Collective refined their sound with the release of Sung Tongs in 2004. Arguably their best album, Sung Tongs is what got Animal Collective noticed by critics and music lovers alike. The tribal drums and vocal harmonies that pervade the album are sometimes shocking, sometimes eerie, but always unique and fascinating. "Winters Love" is the essential Animal Collective song: after a mellow, two minute long intro, the song erupts into a beautiful harmony of chanting, acoustic guitar and simple drums. One gets the feeling that the song was written while the band was sitting around a campfire in some remote wilderness.

After Sung Tongs, Animal Collective went on a creative streak, releasing album after album of unique and beautiful music. The remarkable thing about Animal Collective, and what makes them the band of the decade, is their ability to evolve from album to album. Strawberry Jam (2007) found AC utilizing samples to craft complex soundscapes and in 2009 the band culminated the decade with Merriweather Post Pavilion a highly electronic album that built on to their sample-heavy sound.

In many ways, the story of Animal Collective illustrates what was great about music in the 2000s. An unheard of band was able to self-release an album and go on to become relative superstars without having to sign to a major record label and compromise their sound. And AC show no signs of slowing down; they just released a brand new EP in 2010 and even premiered a film at the Sundance Film Festival. Let's hope that the next decade (the teens?) will bring us more great music from this truly amazing band.