141 Best Albums of the 2010s
We already posted our lists of the 100 Best Punk & Emo Albums of the 2010s and the 100 Best Rap and R&B Albums of the 2010s, and now — on the day the decade ends — here is our list of our favorite albums of the decade overall, in any genre. We tried to cap the list at 100, but that just wasn’t enough slots, so we ended up making it 141. Even that number is so low to represent an entire decade, so we unfortunately had to leave off a lot of music that we love, but we tried our best to narrow it down to the albums that most represented the 2010s to us, and we hope this list offers up some new discoveries and/or a fun trip down memory lane.
Thanks for spending an entire decade with us, and here’s to the next one. Read on for our list…
141. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia, 2016)
Right before he passed away, legendary poet and folk singer Leonard Cohen released one of the darkest albums of his 50-year career. Nothing else in his massive discography is quite like it.
140. Inter Arma – Paradise Gallows (Relapse, 2016)
By mixing sludge, death, black, prog, post-rock, Swans/Neurosis-style folk, and more, Inter Arma has become one of the most singular metal bands of the decade and Paradise Gallows is just one of their many peaks.
139. The Radio Dept – Clinging to a Scheme (Labrador, 2010)
The Radio Dept’s hushed pop — even when presented as dub reggae or baggy indie disco — has always felt like a secret club but Clinging to a Scheme is them at their most inviting.
138. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe (Domino, 2013)
Could the new wavey ’80s pop revival of the 2010s happened without Dev Hynes and his 2013 sophomore album Cupid Deluxe? Maybe, but it probably would’ve turned out a lot differently.
137. MGMT – Congratulations (Columbia, 2010)
Refusing to repeat the danceable pop of their breakthrough singles, MGMT holed up in a studio with Sonic Boom of Spacemen 3, tapped into their weirdest ’60s psych-pop and ’80s post-punk influences, and made a genuinely risk-taking album that reinvented the band entirely. The Pinkerton of the 2010s.
136. Thou – Magus (Sacred Bones, 2018)
On their devastating 2018 album Magus, genre-defying metal band Thou tackle everything from harsh sludge to accessible grunge to hauntingly beautiful instrumentals.
135. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours the Winners, 2011)
Based on a study of alzheimer’s disease and using samples of ‘20s and ‘30s ballroom jazz, James Leyland Kirby’s first exploration of the connection between music and memory remains his most affecting.
134. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (20 Buck Spin, 2016)
Who made the best psychedelic rock album of the 2010s? King Gizzard? Tame Impala? It just might have been Finnish black metallers Oranssi Pazuzu.
133. Marissa Nadler – For My Crimes (Sacred Bones, 2018)
Marissa Nadler’s dark dream-folk is one of the most hauntingly beautiful things on this earth, and her consistently rewarding career hit its highest peak yet on 2018’s For My Crimes.
132. Title Fight – Floral Green (SideOneDummy, 2012)
In between the punk/post-hardcore of 2011’s Shed and the shoegaze of 2015’s Hyperview came Floral Green, which occupied the perfect middle ground and was one of the first classic albums of the whole punk/indie/emo crossover.
131. Paramore – After Laughter (Fueled by Ramen, 2017)
Paramore reinvented themselves from arena emo/pop punk stars to sharp new wavers on After Laughter, which isn’t just one of the decade’s best albums within punk and emo but within any genre and it’s Paramore’s best album yet.
130. Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City, 2014)
By our estimation, psych/garage rocker Ty Segall has released approximately 73 albums this decade and most of the them are worth hearing, but Manipulator is where energy, songwriting and creativity are really peak while maintaining a high ripper count.
129. Holly Herndon – Platform (4AD, 2015)
Experimental artist Holly Herndon blended Laurie Anderson and ASMR on one of the decade’s most breathtakingly weird albums.
128. Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (Drag City, 2015)
If you wanted to hear a modern-day artist this decade tap into the obscure, cultishly loved sounds of late ’60s / early ’70s psychedelic folk, you can’t do much better than Jessica Pratt on On Your Own Love again.
127. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time (Olsen, 2014)
Originally known for his disco edits of other people’s tracks, Norwegian producer Todd Terje finally got around to making an album 10 years into his career which showed there was a lot more up his sleeve than vintage synths.
126. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions, 2011)
Erika M. Anderson combined the noise rock of her previous band Gowns with incisive, melodic songwriting on one of the decade’s most distinctive debuts.
125. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (Matador, 2016)
After gaining a cult following for self-releasing a zillion albums on Bandcamp, Will Toledo hit the studio with veteran producer Steve Fisk for Car Seat Headrest’s Matador debut Teens of Denial, making good on the promise of all those Bandcamp albums and coming out with some of the decade’s finest trad-style indie rock.
124. Total Control – Henge Beat (Iron Lung, 2011)
The members of this Melbourne garage/post-punk band (including the ubiquitous Mikey Young) have a couple dozen other active bands between them but Total Control are the best one and this is their most vital moment.
123. King Krule – 6 Feet Beneath the Moon (True Panther, 2013)
Archy Marshall released 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, his debut as King Krule, on his 19th birthday but the record — and his gravelly, marble-mouthed delivery — revealed him to be an old soul trapped in a teenager’s body, crafting a sound that doesn’t quite belong to any era, floating buoyantly in dreamy limbo.
122. Zola Jesus – Stridilum (Sacred Bones, 2010)
The most purely addictive goth-pop album of the decade.
121. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop, 2011)
As the harmony-fueled folk-pop of Fleet Foxes’ helped inspire the cringey trend of stadium-ready bands in old-timey get-ups, Fleet Foxes themselves went in weirder, more psychedelic directions, as on their excellent sophomore LP Helplessness Blues.
120. Metronomy – The English Riviera (Because Music, 2011)
Purveyors of twitchy, decidedly British disco, Metronomy widened their reach on their third album, embracing sweeter melodies and mellowing things out in the best, most charming ways.
119. The Hotelier – Goodness (Tiny Engines, 2016)
The album where The Hotelier went from being one of the decade’s best emo bands to one of the decade’s best bands, period.
118. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die – Harmlessness (Epitaph, 2015)
It’s one of the best emo albums of the decade because it totally defied the genre, branching out into indie rock, chamber pop, folk-pop, sludge metal, and more. There’s really no other band in the world like this.
117. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw (Dead Oceans, 2016)
Though he’d been writing great songs since his days in The Babies, Kevin Morby found a creative partner in Sam Cohen who helped him hone all his best qualities and bring his songs to life like never before.
116. Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Third Man, 2016)
With a natural-born knack for classic country and Southern rock and a songwriting style that’s wise beyond her years, Margo Price aimed right at the heart on her powerful debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and hit it straight-on.
115. Four Tet – There Is Love In You (Domino, 2010)
UK electronic icon Four Tet released a ton of great material this decade, but none more euphoric than There Is Love In You.
114. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got it From Here… Thank U 4 Your Service (Epic, 2016)
Jazz-rap legends A Tribe Called Quest reunited to release one last album before Phife Dawg sadly passed away, and it re-captured the essence of their classic era and made it fit right in with modern rap, thanks in part to help from Kendrick Lamar and Anderson .Paak.
113. Chelsea Wolfe – Apokalypsis (Pendu Sound, 2011)
Before Chelsea Wolfe emerged from the depths of the underworld as one of the decade’s biggest goth artists, she released this raw, filthy mix of noise rock and dark folk that sounds like it was imported straight from hell.
112. Grizzly Bear – Shields (Warp, 2012)
Grizzly Bear weren’t at the height of the indie zeitgeist in the 2010s like they were in the 2000s, but they kept progressing and the blissful choruses and inventive psych/prog arrangements of Shields make it one of this decade’s true gems.
111. Disclosure – Settle (PMR/Island, 2013)
Disclosure put a fresh twist on ’90s house and dance-pop, landed a slew of perfectly-matched guest vocalists (including a pre-superstardom Sam Smith) and came out with one of the most fun records of the decade.
110. Grouper – Ruins (Kranky, 2014)
Grouper’s knack for blending ambient and singer/songwriter music excelled on all of the many albums she released this decade. She always makes quiet music, but somehow Ruins feels loud.
109. Darkside – Psychic (Matador, 2013)
Mixing Nicolas Jaar’s vocals and electronics with multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington’s knack for proggy guitar, bass, keys, and more, the sole album from Darkside remains a masterclass in both modern electronic music and prog.
108. Big Thief – U.F.O.F. (4AD, 2019)
Big Thief are one of our generation’s best folk rock bands, and on UFOF, they took things in a more cerebral direction that’s often more Radiohead than Neil Young.
107. Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt (Don Giovanni, 2013)
As folk, indie rock, emo and punk continued to cross paths throughout this decade, it became clearer and clearer that Waxhatchee’s sophomore album Cerulean Salt would go down as a touchstone of this sound.
106. Alcest – Écailles de Lune (Prophecy Productions, 2010)
Before Deafheaven exploded in America, France’s Alcest had already perfected the shoegaze/black metal blend (sometimes called “blackgaze”) that Deafheaven brought to the masses, and Écailles de Lune remains one of their greatest triumphs.
105. Converge – All We Love We Leave Behind (Epitaph, 2012)
104. Nicki Minaj – The Pinkprint (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic, 2014)
“Monster” solidified Nicki Minaj as one of the decade’s most distinct new rappers, but it wasn’t until The Pinkprint that she turned in a masterful album that combined her knacks for rap, pop, and R&B and was worthy of being deemed a classic.
103. Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music (Williams Street, 2012)
Before El-P and Killer Mike dominated the decade as Run The Jewels, El produced Mike’s 2012 solo album R.A.P. Music which remains one of the hardest-hitting rap albums of the decade.
102. Joanna Newsom – Divers (Drag City, 2015)
Whatever the unparalleled Joanna Newsom touches turns to gold, and though Divers is more dialed back than the baroque folk masterpiece Joanna put out directly beforehand, it’s still out of this world.
101. Angel Olsen – My Woman (Jagjaguwar, 2016)
My Woman is the album that fully elevated Angel Olsen from psychedelic folk revivalist to top-tier indie rock icon, and it deserves a spot on this list for the instant-classic “Shut Up Kiss Me” alone.
100. A$AP Rocky – Long.Live.A$AP (ASAP Worldwide/Polo Grounds/RCA, 2013)
After emerging out of the hazy, short-lived subgenre of cloud rap (remember cloud rap?), A$AP Rocky inked a deal with a major and his official debut studio album Long. Live. ASAP became an instant classic. It remains a snapshot of its time, but also timeless. At the turn of the decade, super mainstream rap was getting stale and a new generation of hungry, game-changing rappers took to the internet to get their new sounds out there, whether or not major labels would care. Seven of them — Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson, Big K.R.I.T., and Rocky himself — teamed up for the moment-defining posse cut “1 Train,” which lives on Long. Live. ASAP. It might be weird to think now, but in early 2013, those rappers were all pretty much on the same level and all still relatively underground, and “1 Train” marked the moment they teamed up and said they’re ready to take over the world. Kendrick, who had just released good kid, m.A.A.d city only three months earlier, also appeared on “Fuckin’ Problems” alongside Drake, who was still proving himself at the time and didn’t fully have his head in the clouds yet. Together (plus a hook from 2 Chainz), they came up with another moment-defining song and Rocky’s biggest hit. Kendrick associate Schoolboy Q (who Rocky aided about a year earlier on his breakthrough single “Hands on the Wheel”) returned the favor on “PMW.” Skrillex, who was in the process of leaving brostep (remember brostep?) behind and proving himself as a Serious Artist, made some pretty serious art when he teamed with Rocky for the bass-wobbling rap of “Wild for the Night.” And indie-friendly artists like Santigold, Florence Welch, and Danger Mouse lent their talents to the album, which not only sounded good but helped position Rocky as an artist who wanted to stay loyal to indie even as he entered the mainstream. The guests were clearly a major part of Long. Live. ASAP, but Rocky carried a ton of the album’s weight himself too. As he has gotten increasingly psychedelic on later albums, Long. Live. ASAP remains Rocky’s best pure rap album and it contains some of the best rapping of his career. [Andrew Sacher]
99. Cate Le Bon – Mug Museum (Wichita, 2013)
Cate Le Bon really came into her own with her third album. Written in Wales after the death of her dear maternal grandmother but recorded after she moved to Los Angeles, Mug Museum, embodies both states of mind — melancholic introspection as Cate wonders about her place in her maternal lineage, but also the sunny promise of California’s West Coast. The boggy skronk that was all over 2012’s Cyrk remains, but it’s smoothed out just a little with poppier melodies. Cate’s unique voice brings everything together, whether it’s dueting with Perfume Genius on “I Think I Knew” or just the sighing ahhs of “Are You With Me Now?” Mug Museum continually hits a happy/sad sweet spot whose vibe sticks with you. As she sings on the title track, “I forget the detail but know the warmth.” [Bill Pearis]
98. Jon Hopkins – Immunity (Domino, 2013)
Having spent years creating textural electronic music with Imogen Heap, Brian Eno, Coldplay, King Creosote, not to mention his own work mixing electronics with orchestral compositions (see 2009’s Insides), Jon Hopkins embraced serious dance music with this concept album exploring, instrumentally, an epic night out. From the pre-party, to deep-hitting club bangers to the sunrise comedown, Immunity is a stummer. While “IDM” is not a term that’s used so much anymore, there’s no denying the intelligence behind Immunity, a record that works best when listened to as a whole. That said, for all the thought put into it, it’s also deeply felt, with these machines throbbing like a beating heart. [B.P.]
97. Future – DS2 (A1/Freebandz/Epic, 2015)
Atlanta trap became one of the most prevailing trends in 2010s hip hop, and though trap wasn’t always an album game — at least not in the traditional sense — there’s a good argument to be made that if there’s one definitive 2010s trap album, it’s Future’s DS2. Titled as a sequel to his buzzed-about 2011 mixtape Dirty Sprite, DS2 came after Future tried to go mainstream with two just-okay major label albums, and then reverted back to his mixtape roots and put out the unstoppable run of Monster, Beast Mode, and 56 Nights that eventually led to him making this proper studio album in the same druggy, rough-around-the-edges style. It was a big hit, but it wasn’t Future trying to go pop; he made pop come to him. Various tracks from the three preceding mixtapes ended up on DS2‘s deluxe version (the deluxe version is really the one to get), and every other song on the proper album is just as good. One of the big shifts in rap in the 2010s was rapping about doing lots of drugs, rather than selling them, and DS2 sounds like a rap album that’s been doused in a bottle of Robitussin. It’s sexed up, drugged up, melancholic, angry, and all kinds of fucked up, and Future delivers every mood with conviction over gorgeous, innovative production from some of trap’s key producers (Metro Boomin, Southside, Zaytoven). Within what remains a very crowded subgenre — including countless subsequent releases by Future himself — DS2 still stands out as a masterpiece. [A.S.]
96. Tool – Fear Inoculum (RCA, 2019)
After a very long 13-year wait, Tool finally returned this year with an album that isn’t just a good comeback, but that rivals just about any of their classics. Fear Inoculum is unmistakably a Tool album, yet it sounds like no other album in their discography. It focuses a lot more on their psychedelic and progressive rock sides than their metal side, and Tool had been heading in that direction for a while but they didn’t fully commit until this album. It feels like an album they might have always wanted to make but couldn’t during the height of their fame and the height of alternative metal’s fame, and 2019 felt like a perfect time to release it. In a time where atmospheric sounds dominate the alternative music landscape, Fear Inoculum feels as relevant to 2019 as Ænima felt to 1996. [A.S.]
95. The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (Dirty Hit/Polydor/Interscope, 2018)
Lots of bands this decade made music that sounded like The Smashing Pumpkins, or albums that were structured like Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, but if there’s any band that’s a modern-day parallel to the Pumpkins, in all their deeply cheesy, stupidly ambitious, teenage-feelings-invoking glory, it’s The 1975. Like with the Pumpkins, The 1975’s debut is relatively straightforward and anything but “cool.” The 1975 didn’t start out with indie cred, but they were determined to make such great, over-the-top indie music that the haters would just have to finally admit they were good. And with their second (2016’s I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It) and third (2018’s A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships) albums, that’s exactly what they did. There’s a lot of great stuff on I Like It When You Sleep, but there’s also a little too much filler and a little too much indulgence in cheese, but A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships succeeded in just about every way. It’s the best 1975 album to listen to front to back, and it does a better job of reeling in The 1975’s reckless ambitions, while still remaining a massive musical feat that channels indie rock, mainstream pop, jazz, R&B, ambient music, and so much more into one melting pot of sounds that threatens to boil over at any second but never does. Matty Healy tops it off with lyricism that’s got the lack-of-filter and subtle wit of a Twitter feed, and completely captures the chaotic millennial mindset in the process. [A.S.]
94. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour (MCA Nashville, 2018)
It seems as though, in the year and change since Golden Hour’s release, it’s only gotten more agreed-upon. Country fans like it, indie fans like it, pop fans like it, people without strict allegiance to one genre or another like it just the same. It’s the rare album that can outlast the initial hype, or worse yet, consensus around its release. It won the Grammy for album of the year for chrissakes, and still nobody has an unkind word to say about it. It’s just so blissfully, transparently good. It isn’t complicated, it just hits exactly the way it should, the type of album where your favorite song changes every time you listen to it. Right now, mine is the exquisite alone-at-the-party melancholy of “Happy and Sad” and the incantatory chorus of “Love is a Wild Thing,” but seriously, you could just pick any of them. It hasn’t been around long, but it already feels timeless. [Rob Sperry-Fromm]
93. The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian, 2014)
Somewhere along the line, The War On Drugs became the most influential band in indie. There always seems a new indie record every two or three years that everyone rushes to rip off — be it For Emma, Forever Ago or Merriweather Post Pavilion or James Blake — and for a while this decade, it was Lost In The Dream. Plenty of indie bands who had already established themselves with a different subgenre quickly changed pace and aimed to channel The War On Drugs’ psychedelic, synth-fueled indie heartland rock. A lot of good records came out of that craze, but Lost In The Dream remains indie heartland rock’s finest hour. Lost In The Dream tastefully tapped into cheesy influences like Don Henley, and it repurposed the cheese in a way that somehow became entirely cool. And it also came out with some of the decade’s most eternally catchy indie rock songs. This album deserves a spot on this list for the immortal power of “Red Eyes” alone. [A.S.]
92. Robyn – Honey (Konichiwa, 2018)
The rise of alternative, uncompromising pop music this decade probably wouldn’t have happened without Robyn’s 2010 masterwork Body Talk, and though alt-pop went through so many evolutions in the eight years that Robyn refrained from releasing a followup, 2018’s Honey saw her reclaiming the throne and positioning herself on the cutting edge of pop music once again. Honey is a more heady, experimental album than the sugar rush of Body Talk, but no less instantly satisfying. If Body Talk opened the doors for pop music to be as weird as it wanted to be this decade, Honey knocked them off their hinges. [A.S.]
91. The National – High Violet (4AD, 2010)
Nearly a decade on, High Violet remains The National’s most widely-celebrated album, and it became known as a defining moment for the band. Riding high off the release of their highly-praised Boxer three years beforehand, High Violet, their fifth LP overall, shows the band branching out into much more elegant instrumental territory, filled with swirling string sections and dramatic crescendos, with their use of buzzing guitars and Matt Berninger’s poetic, intricate lyrical style still intact. The album is filled to the brim with memorable lyrical moments and song topics, sung through the filter of Berninger’s drawled, haunting baritone, which often swing between simple observations, to surreal visions of New York and Ohio, and heartbreaking accounts of personal insecurity. It’s a record that’s as wonderfully dense lyrically as it is sonically majestic, and the many layers of detail across the album demand the listener to keep revisiting, even after all these years. [Jeremy Nifras]
90. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid (Wondaland Arts Society/Atlantic/Bad Boy, 2010)
Before “alt-R&B,” before Rihanna covered Tame Impala and every indie artist covered Frank Ocean, there was The ArchAndroid, the momentous debut album from Janelle Monae. Janelle featured psych-pop lifers of Montreal on the album, and made her own psychedelic classic with “Mushrooms & Roses.” The Big Boi-featuring “Tightrope” was as groovy as anything on the Big Boi album from that same year, and Janelle made her own OutKast-y song with the great, “Bombs Over Baghdad”-esque “Cold War.” She also channelled Bowie, Prince, Stevie Wonder, James Brown, George Clinton, Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and tons of others into this album that seamlessly hopped between R&B, soul, rap, funk, rock, psychedelia, art pop and more. In some ways, The ArchAndroid predicted the genre-crossing path that music as a whole would take throughout the 2010s, and it’s impossible to talk about this decade’s musical cross pollination without mentioning that this album did it first. Like Bowie, Janelle proudly wore her influences on her sleeves and paid direct homage to her heroes, and she still does so to this day. But also like Bowie, she managed to do all of that while cultivating a persona that was uniquely her own. And it’s all laid out on her first and still-best album The ArchAndroid. [A.S.]
89. Joyce Manor – Joyce Manor (6131, 2011)
It took Joyce Manor a little while to catch on outside of niche punk and emo circles, but quality wise, they came out of the gate swinging on their 2011 self-titled debut. They’d go on to become of the most consistently rewarding rock bands of the ’10s, and they continued to hone and expand their sound in interesting ways on each album, but the main idea was already there on their debut, an 18-minute-and-48-second barrage of near-perfect punk. Borrowing the melodies and quotable lyricism of ’90s pop punk and emo and the lo-fi brevity of Guided by Voices, Joyce Manor’s debut helped write the blueprint for the entire past decade of indie/punk crossover. Blurring the lines between pop punk, emo, and indie rock is now commonplace, but when Joyce Manor did it on their debut album, it felt revolutionary. I’m still not entirely sure which of those genres most accurately describes Joyce Manor, but it doesn’t really matter and that’s kind of the point. Like other casually groundbreaking bands before them, Joyce Manor were just channelling all the music they loved at once and the results ended up being something entirely fresh. Their style has already been replicated hundreds of times, but their substance has not. Underneath the genre-blurring exterior was a natural knack for songwriting that tons of bands only dream of. The fast-paced Joyce Manor is just one fan fave after another; if Joyce Manor ever release a best-of, they could probably include every song on this LP without turning any heads. And it all leads up to “Constant Headache,” the first stone-cold classic they ever wrote and possibly still their finest moment as a band. At 3 minutes, it’s about twice as long as most other songs on this album. It’s a little slower, really giving Barry Johnson’s words room to breathe, and it peaks with a stripped-back bridge, where everything drops out except bass and vocals, as Barry delivers one of the best one-liners ever sung about the emptiness of a one night stand. As long as kids are getting drunk and breaking each other’s hearts, there will be a need for songs like this one, and “Constant Headache” remains one of the best. [A.S.]
88. Mitski – Be the Cowboy (Dead Oceans, 2018)
Mitski’s rise from DIY punk/emo-adjacent singer/songwriter to one of the decade’s biggest and best indie acts has been thrilling to watch. Each album since her 2014 breakthrough Bury Me At Makeout Creek has been more ambitious, more distinctive, and more accessible than the last, and it’s not everyday you see an artist progress this drastically and this rapidly. I don’t love using this cliché, but they really don’t make ’em like this anymore. Be the Cowboy is one of those purely indie records that can and did compete with mainstream pop, the way tons of indie bands did in the previous decade. But it’s also an innovative, forward-thinking record and not at all a throwback to a previous era of music. It’s one of a kind. [A.S.]
87. St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (4AD, 2011)
St. Vincent started from the bottom and she’s now at the top of the indie/art rock totem pole, and if 2017’s MASSEDUCTION was the album that cemented this for good, then 2011’s Strange Mercy was the album where she took the leap. After her first two great records, she knocked it out of the park on Strange Mercy, which pushed her “art” and “pop” sides to new levels and helped establish her as perhaps the most innovative guitarist of her generation. Five decades into rock existing and guitar being its primary instrument, Annie Clark practically reinvented the way the thing is played, and she applied her distinct, unparalleled riffage to euphoric pop songs like “Cruel” and “Northern Lights.” Around the same time she released Strange Mercy, St. Vincent also covered underground heroes like Big Black and The Pop Group, and by the time Strange Mercy had fully settled in, it was obvious that she had become an underground hero herself. [A.S.]
86. Purple Mountains – S/T (Drag City, 2019)
It’s impossible to separate David Berman’s debut as Purple Mountains with its songs about loneliness, depression, heartbreak and existential crises, and with his suicide less than a month after its release. It hurts all the more as this is one of Berman’s best-ever records, with the onetime Silver Jews frontman’s eloquence, wit and humanity in full display. “Songs build little rooms in time, and housed within the song’s design / is the ghost the host has left behind / to greet and sweep the guest inside.” Ultimately Berman left us with one last wonderful gift that lyrics like this from “Snow is Falling in Manhattan” — the album’s most deeply affecting number — remind us not to take for granted. [B.P.]
85. The Menzingers – On The Impossible Past (Epitaph, 2012)
Not unlike The Gaslight Anthem before them, The Menzingers’ formula was simple: take the melodic punk of bands like The Bouncing Souls and Rancid, throw in a dash of Springsteen’s blue collar heartland rock, and tell the stories you know. And with On the Impossible Past, The Menzingers wrote a record so instantly classic that it rivaled all of those aforementioned forebears, and it still does. On the Impossible Past takes place in diners, parking lots, muscle cars, rooftops in Brooklyn that were covered in bad graffiti, and at parties thrown by some guy named Chris. It’s steeped in nostalgia, and full of highly specific stories, like an old photograph. Like with any memories, some of those details are probably a little romanticized — especially when you’re singing about the kinds of nights you’ll never remember — but On the Impossible Past doesn’t feel fake or dishonest. Even if you can’t relate to the depictions of small town American life, the feelings are nearly universal. From self-doubt to self-medication, from young love to broken hearts, On the Impossible Past taps into life experiences than can happen just about anywhere, and it does so in such a way where your brain starts to blend your own fuzzy past with the vivid settings in The Menzingers’ songs. These are the kinds of songs that can really mean a lot if they find you at a rough point in your life. But even if they don’t, they’ll likely linger in the back of your head anyway, just because they’re so damn catchy. [A.S.]
84. Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain, 2014)
Without the usual support from within the country music machine, Sturgill Simpson rebelliously burst on to the music scene in 2014 with his second album that helped usher in a new era of “alt-country” and that ended up being embraced by the mainstream and alternative music fans alike. Like his 2013 album, this one was produced by Dave Cobb who also worked with fellow movement leader Jason Isbell in 2013 and 2014 before going on to put his mark on many of our favorite albums in this subgenre (Chris Stapleton, Colter Wall, John Prine, Amanda Shires, and Brandi Carlile to name a few). Appealing to indie rock, folk and country music fans, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music introduced many of us to Sturgill’s psychedelic outlaw country and deft lyricism, complete with album highlight cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise.” Stugill went on to release two more albums this decade — the even bigger and acclaimed A Sailor’s Guide to Earth and the “holy shit”-inducing, blues rock-tinged, controversially not-country album Sound & Fury at the end of 2019 — but this is where it all began and the album I still reach for most, “So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes or fairy tales of blood and wine. It’s turtles all the way down the line.” [Dave]
83. Touche Amore – Is Survived By (Deathwish, 2013)
Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me remains the favorite Touche Amore album of many fans, probably in part because it’s one of their most personal. It’s the kind of album you write when you’re going through a rough patch, and the kind of album that thousands of fans will connect to when they’re going through their own rough patches. But what do you do when you’ve already written that record, and now you’re happy, and you’re worried about hurting your legacy? In Touche Amore’s case, you write a record about how hard it is to write when you’re happy, and about worrying what your legacy will be in the future. And, in Touche Amore’s case, you end up making an album that cements your legacy in the process. It’s a little reductive to say the album is only about those things — there are also more personal songs like “DNA” where Jeremy Bolm sings about the fear of becoming his father — but it is definitely a dominant theme. And it turns out his writing can be just as powerful when he breaks the fourth wall as when he’s caught up in his own inner turmoil. And musically, Is Survived By was a clear maturation from Parting the Sea. The production is gorgeous (thanks to Brad Wood, who’s also worked with Sunny Day Real Estate, mewithoutYou, and more), the melodies are stronger than they ever were before, and the band played tighter than they ever did before. Even more so than on Parting the Sea, Touche Amore blurred the line between hardcore and post-rock on Is Survived By, coming out with songs that are fast like the former but ebb and flow like the latter. (It was an album that paired especially well with Deafheaven’s Sunbather, which came out on the same label the same year, and had similarly watercolor-y artwork to Is Survived By, both of which were designed by Touche’s Nick Steinhardt. Deafheaven may be black metal and Touche may be hardcore, but both combined melody and aggression in ways that were similar more often than they were different.) Is Survived By came out six years ago at this point, and because there’s so much music out there, I don’t listen to it these days as much as I did in 2013. But as soon as I hear that opening drum fill on album opener “Just Exist,” I’m transported right back to the place I was the very first time I clicked play on this masterpiece. [A.S.]
82. Pallbearer – Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore, 2014)
Pallbearer proved they were a force to be reckoned with on their trad-doom reviving 2012 debut Sorrow and Extinction, and they proved their ambitions were limitless on their third album, 2017’s Heartless, which saw Pallbearer pushing their sound to two different extremes, from digestible sludge-pop to sprawling prog. And right smack in the middle of those two albums is Foundations of Burden, the sweet spot between where they started and where they are now. They’re still a trad-doom band on this album, but you can tell from songs like “Worlds Apart,” “Foundations,” and especially “The Ghost I Used to Be” that Pallbearer were getting interested in crafting great pop melodicism, not just copying Sabbath and Candlemass riffs. And on “Ashes,” Pallbearer begin to venture outside of metal with a glistening nugget that’s more like Sigur Ros or Bon Iver than like any doom band. “Trad-doom” is a tricky genre, because, as satisfying as it can be to listen to, it’s tough to do anything new when your genre literally includes an abbreviated version of the word “traditional.” But on Foundations of Burden, Pallbearer managed to (mostly) stick within the confines of the genre, while making a record that we really hadn’t heard before, and that remains fun as hell to listen to. [A.S.]
81. Burial – Tunes 2011-2019 (Hyperdub, 2019)
When we were putting together this list, we kept wondering if there was a way to include all the great music Burial put out this decade, though he hadn’t really released an album that would make sense to include. Conveniently, he released this compilation in the very last month of the decade, and if you wish Burial made a third album, this is probably it. (Given its length and the fact that it’s a double album, this might be his fourth album too.) Since Untrue, Burial has remained at the top of his game and has continued to write innovative music that is a clear step forward from his early material but retains enough of the distinct Burial sound that you always know who you’re listening to. The songs have gotten longer, darker, weirder, and more experimental, yet they still contain moments of immediate bliss. And on Tunes 2011 to 2019, nearly all of Burial’s post-Untrue work — including major highlights Kindred and Rival Dealer — is here in one place, artistically sequenced in the way Burial thought would flow best, not necessarily chronologically. Hearing the comp start to finish is a time-consuming, sometimes-taxing experience. But it’s worth every second. [A.S.]
80. Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory (Carpark, 2012)
Cloud Nothings emerged out of the buzzed-about lo-fi boom of the late ’00s, but with Attack On Memory, they ditched all of their trendy traits and came out with the best and most widely-loved record of their career. It ditched the lo-fi indie pop of their early work in favor of abrasive post-hardcore, and it tied together elements of various ’90s rock bands — from Nirvana to Sonic Youth to Weezer to Sunny Day Real Estate — in a way that felt both like the nostalgia dose you didn’t know you needed and the freshest new rock record around. They made it with Steve Albini, whose raw, bare-bones style and killer snare sound was the perfect fit for a record that bounced seamlessly between punchy hooks (“Fall In,” “Stay Useless”), entrancing noise rock (“Wasted Days”), dark post-hardcore (“No Future/No Past”), angst-ridden grunge (“No Sentiment”), and more. It helped bring all of this music back into the indie rock zeitgeist, but Attack On Memory doesn’t succeed just because it helped kickstart a sea change within the genre. It holds up today as one of the most brilliant, impassioned, and endlessly listenable rock records released this decade. [A.S.]
79. Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy (Atlantic, 2018)
The world is littered with talentless stars and with uncharismatic virtuosos, but every once in a while we’re gifted with someone like Cardi B, who was born to be a star and who just so happens to be impeccable at her craft. Once “Bodak Yellow” swept the nation, it wasn’t a question if Cardi would achieve stardom but when. And even though her success was a given, we’ve still seen great potential tainted by botched album rollouts, so it’s no small feat that Cardi’s official debut album neared perfection. There are no songs where she sounds out of her comfort zone, no throwaway radio bait, no filler, no out-of-place favors from big-name guests (if anything, Cardi quickly eclipsed nearly every guest on the album); it’s just a consistently great album that proves Cardi has lyrical depth and a grasp on a wide variety of music. Of its 13 songs, at least ten of them feel like moment-defining singles. “Bodak Yellow” was the song of 2017, “I Like It” — which helped open up English-speaking audiences to the already-rich world of Latin trap — was the song of 2018, and even those two can’t overshadow the many other memorable songs. It was an album that felt like a classic upon arrival, and that feeling has only strengthened since. [A.S.]
78. Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl, 2012)
There might not be a more accurately titled album on this list than Celebration Rock. It’s exactly what this album does; it celebrates the pure thrill that you can only get from rock and roll. Every song (except the initially underrated album closer “Continuous Thunder”) is turned up to 11 and played like the two members of Japandroids are challenging each other to play just a little bit faster. They’ve said they included all the “whoa”s because they were trying to think of how fans would sing along at shows. They stuffed the album with fist-raising heartland punk anthems that sounded like The Replacements with a literal fire lit under their asses, and they included such classic rock-isms as “Hearts from hell collide on fire’s highway tonight” and “hitchhiked to hell and back, riding the wind / waiting for a generation’s bonfire to begin.” These eight songs sound like all the most fun parts of rock, stripped of all the pretension. It felt like a breath of fresh air in 2012, when stuff like art rock and psych-pop was still dominating indie rock, and — along with Cloud Nothings’ Attack on Memory — it helped open the doors for modern indie rock to embrace music that actually rocked. It holds up after all these years not just because it rocks so hard, though, but because underneath all the ruckus, Japandroids conveyed enough raw emotion to shake the hearts of anyone who listened to the core. “It’s a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give / but you’re not mine to die for anymore, so I must live,” Brian King shouts as the drums drop out of penultimate song “The House That Heaven Built,” and it’s among the most life-affirming sendoffs put to tape this decade. [A.S.]
77. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art, 2014)
Post punk sounds and industrial towns go hand in hand. Detroit’s Protomartyr have a sense of urgency and anger that could’ve sprouted from somewhere like Manchester or Cleveland in 1979 but frontman Joe Casey’s lyrics could’ve only sprung from one time and place. With a half-sung, half-shouted delivery, Casey is a true original, spewing literate bile that is usually funny, bleak and thoughtful all at the same time, while his three talented bandmates match his words with dark, powerful, exceptionally well-crafted music. Their second album, Under Color of Official Right, has them firing on all cylinders with Casey pointing his lens at, among other things, coastal invaders of his Detroit, absentee dads, local politics and inter-band dynamics. [B.P.]
76. Julien Baker – Sprained Ankle (6131, 2015)
The first time we saw Julien Baker play, she was opening first of three for The National side project EL VY, and she was added to the show long after it sold out, so it was safe to say no one had bought their tickets to see her. Her debut album Sprained Ankle had just come out a few weeks earlier, and when Julien performed her then-little-known songs from that album, with nothing but her own guitar and voice, she silenced the crowd for her entire set, including hundreds of people who were likely hearing her for the very first time. It was instantly clear at that show that Julien and Sprained Ankle had a bright future ahead of them, and that’s exactly how things turned out. By the time Julien signed to the larger Matador Records and released the even more widely acclaimed Turn Out the Lights, Sprained Ankle already felt like a classic. Now, Julien regularly headlines bigger rooms than the one we saw her open for EL VY in (as a solo artist and as a member of boygenius with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus), and it’s all because of the doors Sprained Ankle opened. With her many covers and collaborations, she’s helped bridge the gap between ’90s emo, classic folk and country, modern indie, and more, and she has become a force of her own in the process. We’re already starting to see new artists emerge that cite Julien as an influence, and it’s not surprising at all. Julien’s music, especially on Sprained Ankle, has felt like a breath of fresh air within all of the aforementioned styles of music and beyond. [A.S.]
75. Foxing – Nearer My God (Triple Crown, 2018)
After Foxing released their crowdpleasing 2013 debut The Albatross but before they released 2018’s genre-defying art rock magnum opus Nearer My God, they put out Dealer, the most meditative album in their discography thus far. Instead of building to explosive catharses like the two albums it’s bookended by, Dealer saw Foxing exploring post-rock and atmospheric singer/songwriter material, and coming out with music that gradually draws you in rather than hitting you in the face. Nearer My God is Foxing’s most experimental album, but Dealer is probably their most “difficult” — so to speak — and it’s definitely their most consistently gorgeous. The album is as lush as the greenery on the artwork, and without the in-your-face parts of the other two albums, it relies on pure sonic beauty and Conor Murphy’s storytelling to keep you hooked, which it has no trouble doing. Dealer made it clear that Foxing were not going to be pigeonholed, and it helped open the doors for them to eventually make an album like Nearer My God. It’s so much more significant than just a stepping stone on the path to Nearer My God, though. Half a decade later, and there still hasn’t really been album in or outside of the emo scene that sounds like it. [A.S.]
74. Drake – Take Care (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic, 2011)
Drake was corny from the start — it was often part of his appeal — but if you were still clowning Drake by the time he released Take Care, you just weren’t paying enough attention. An enormous leap from anything he had had done before it and still better than anything he’s done since, Take Care remains one of the most purely gorgeous and massively influential albums of the decade in any genre. He was arguably the first major artist to realize that the dark, atmospheric, indie-friendly “alt-R&B” was about to break, and he recruited alt-R&B pioneer The Weeknd to help him achieve his own version of that sound on Take Care. Though his most crucial collaborator is not The Weeknd but frequent Drake producer 40, who helmed the majority of the songs on Take Care and helped Drake craft the sound that Drake copycats have gone after for years. Together (along with a few other producers and some very key guests), Drake and 40 made an album that has it all. “Over My Dead Body” is the kind of tell-all intro track that we’d see several other rappers channel this decade. “Headlines” is one of the finest string-laden epics this side of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If you weren’t already on board with The Weeknd from his mixtapes, “Crew Love” proved how powerful his music was. “Take Care” took the already-cool Jamie xx remix of the already-cool Gil Scott-Heron song, added in Rihanna, and turned it into something accessible and danceable enough for anyone. “Marvins Room” remains Drake’s finest execution of atmospheric, post-James Blake R&B. “Buried Alive Interlude” helped introduce Kendrick Lamar to the mainstream a year before he released good kid, m.A.A.d city, and for that, you can thank Drake later. “Lord Knows” has one of the most triumphant Just Blaze beats of the decade. “The Real Her” has one of the best verses from the elusive Andre 3000 of the decade. At the risk of just listing all 18 songs, I’ll stop here, but Take Care has no filler. It just celebrated its eighth birthday last month, and it still reveals more of itself with every listen. [A.S.]
73. Beyonce – Beyonce (Parkwood/Columbia, 2013)
Just around midnight on Friday, December 13, 2013, after many major year-end lists were already published, Beyonce changed the game with that digital drop. She released her self-titled album immediately to iTunes, without any warning, resulting in perhaps the most innovative major album release since Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows. It started the trend of surprise releases and the trend of visual albums, but most importantly, it brought the burgeoning “alt-R&B” genre to the mainstream and established Beyonce not as a waning star, but as a creative leader with her ear to the ground. Beyonce didn’t invent alt-R&B just like The Beatles didn’t invent psychedelic rock, but in both cases, a new bar was set for the genre once larger-than-life superstars got their hands on it. The cold, dark, atmospheric direction that R&B had been going in just sounded better when Beyonce did it. The album featured Frank Ocean (one of the pioneers of the sound) and Drake (an early adopter of the sound), but Beyonce’s best interpretations of this then-new form of R&B were done with no guests at all (“Haunted,” “Partition,” “Jealous”). Beyonce also rapped (“Flawless,” bonus track “7/11″), made sexed-up synthpop (“Blow”), continued to perfect the heart-wrenching balladry of 4 (“Heaven”), threw in a stadium-sized anthem for good measure (“XO”), and dabbled in a handful of other styles of music on what remains her most experimental album to date. She also sang of everything from unrealistic beauty standards to vivid depictions of her marriage with Jay-Z, to her miscarriage, to the birth of their first daughter Blue Ivy, and she sampled a Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie speech on feminism that quickly became a major milestone in the decade’s mainstreamization of feminism. Beyonce is lyrically powerful and musically adventurous, both of which made it a significant risk for an artist of her popularity. It could have gone down as the album where a pop star yearned for more creative freedom but failed to leave an impact. Instead, it cemented Beyonce as the kind of musical force we so rarely see, respected as a high-brow artist by critics and one of the single most significant pop stars of our time. [A.S.]
72. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA, 2010)
At the turn of the decade, LCD Soundsystem were living pretty comfortably. Several years prior, James Murphy and crew released Sound of Silver, a near-perfect dance punk record that instantly cemented the band’s status among the giants of indie music. And like tons of great bands after releasing a widely-acclaimed album, the band was faced with a decision: where do they go from here? As the band headed into the studio to record their upcoming third LP, Murphy hinted in interviews that it might be the last LCD Soundsystem album, which only further raised expectations. Thankfully, the band’s third album, This is Happening, met these high expectations with ease, and was a powerfully entrancing effort that continued their creative winning streak into the 2010s. It wasn’t too much of a sonic departure from the band’s past work; instead, it showed them sticking to their guns by creating a solid collection of air-tight tracks made for the dance floor. The album’s bold genius is instantly on display during the record’s opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” which is an expert exercise in dynamics, transitioning from a whisper-quiet opening section into a colorful burst of energy, filled with Murphy’s harsh shrieks and impassioned yells. A handful of other tracks on the album continued the band’s reign of writing hypnotic, seven-minute plus dance tracks, with highlights “All I Want” and “You Wanted a Hit” ranking among their punchiest songs ever, and centerpiece “I Can Change” perhaps being among Murphy’s most honest, heart-wrenching lyrical outings. When it was confirmed LCD Soundsystem would be disbanding shortly after the release of this record, the album felt like a climactic moment in the band’s career, as they sat atop the Mount Rushmore of modern indie music without a bad record to their name. And while, of course, the band did regroup for another album years later, listening to This Is Happening knowing it isn’t the grand finale it was intended to be doesn’t diminish its quality at all; it remains an astounding, cohesive listen that still feels as fresh and invigorating as it did years ago. [J.N.]
71. Flying Lotus – Until the Quiet Comes (Warp, 2012)
Cosmogramma probably remains the most innovative Flying Lotus album, but Until the Quiet Comes is the most blissful, and — in this decade of “chill” — the most of its time. It still has the psychedelic, future-jazz freakouts, wacky Thundercat basslines, and show-stealing Thom Yorke guest appearance of its predecessor, but here that’s all wrapped up in a more minimal, subdued package. (And this time there’s a show-stealing Erykah Badu guest appearance too.) Its impact can be felt on some of the decade’s major trends like atmospheric R&B and the jazz renaissance, and because it’s remained so influential, it sounds as good today as it did the day it came out. If Cosmogramma is the chaotic acid trip that no one at the beginning of 2010 was prepared for, then Until the Quiet Comes is the comedown we’ve all been on since. [A.S.]
70. Deafheaven – New Bermuda (Anti-, 2015)
Sunbather might be the album that made Deafheaven metal’s biggest critical darlings of the 2010s, but its 2015 followup New Bermuda is even better. The big talking point surrounding New Bermuda when it came out, was that it was a much heavier album than Sunbather. Sunbather took a lot of influence from shoegaze and post-rock and often sounded as pretty as its pink cover art, which was not unrelated to the cynicism the album was met with from many metalheads. But New Bermuda came with black artwork and riffs that were descended from Slayer and 1990s metalcore. It was a tougher, meaner, more traditionally metal version of Deafheaven, as if to convince the haters that they are a true metal band, or maybe to challenge some Sunbather fans with a more alienating album. But New Bermuda isn’t just better than Sunbather by default because it’s a heavier album, and it’s selling the album short by only talking about how it’s Deafheaven’s heaviest. It also has some of Deafheaven’s prettiest post-rock parts, and some of their most memorable, melodic riffs. Deafheaven didn’t just get heavier, they also got better at everything they do. New Bermuda offers up the same beautiful/aggressive dichotomy that Sunbather did, but with more finesse than its predecessor and with a greater sense of musical diversity. It doesn’t just give you heavy, baby; it gives you more of everything. [A.S.]
69. Rosalía – El Mal Querer (Sony, 2018)
Over a year since its release, Rosalia’s second and breakthrough album still feels as fresh and futuristic as it did the day I first heard it. I may not understand much Spanish, but the otherworldly beauty of Rosalia’s voice is a universal language. Over the course of 11 songs in 30 minutes, Rosalia delivers an addictive blend of traditional music, modern R&B, and experimental pop not unlike Bjork. Co-produced by ex-hipster darling and Bjork collaborator El Guincho, the album is based on a 13th-century Occitan novel called Flamenca, and tells the story of a toxic relationship. The record samples both Justin Timberlake and Arthur Russell and speaks to fans of both. Standout tracks that showcase the experimental side include “De Aquí No Sales” and “Bagdad” (the one with JT). Things slow down in “Cordura,” a religious experience in under three minutes. Meanwhile, Rosalía’s pop side comes through on the hand-clap-backed opening track/lead single (and first real hit) “Malamente” and even more so on the R&B-leaning “Pienso En Tu Mirá,” one of the most cathartic pop songs released this decade in any language. Since the album’s release, Rosalia’s popularity and collaborator list have continued to grow, and she’s still just getting started. We can’t wait to see what she has in store for the decade to come. [Dave]
68. FKA twigs – Magdalene (Young Turks, 2019)
FKA twigs’ debut record LP1 released in 2014, contained a unique fusion of experimental pop, R&B, and electronic music which felt ahead of its time, and led to many critics and music fans alike to deem her as one of the most forward-thinking artists of the decade. Apart from dropping the just-as-great M3LL155X EP shortly afterwards, twigs faced many setbacks, including serious health issues, which forced her to take a five-year break between albums. Thankfully, she eventually rekindled her creative spirit in 2019 with her second LP Magdalene, which doesn’t fall into the “sophomore slump” trope by any margin, and instead shows twigs pushing her already-unique sonic vision even further than ever before. Across the album’s nine tracks, twigs often toes the line between deeply experimental, otherworldly alt-R&B and electronic sounds, like on the beautifully-layered “Mary Magdalene,” as well as more mainstream-leaning material, especially on album highlight “Holy Terrain,” whose Future guest spot ventures slightly into more commercial territory without compromising twigs’ usual aesthetic. The record also showcases a more tender side to twigs’ sonic landscape, with ballads like “Cellophane,” complete with a stunning vocal performance, easily ranking among her most sparse, emotionally-vulnerable tracks to date. Especially in the current landscape of indie music, where over-saturation of new albums and artists can dilute hype after a certain amount of time, it’s remarkable how after a multi-year absence, Magdalene not only repositioned twigs as one of the leading innovators in the experimental pop genre, but also proved her longevity as an untouchable creative force. [J.N.]
67. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked At Me (P.W. Elverum & Sun, 2017)
Chronicling the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, and its aftermath, Phil Elverum created his masterwork in spite of himself. “Death is real,” the album’s first track “Real Death” begins; “someone’s there and then they’re not, and it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art.” Elverum’s diaristic account of the unspeakable realities of loss is spare, profound in its banality, and harrowing in its truth, so much so that it can be hard to listen to; the minimal melodies fall away and the words that are left are overwhelming, the small intimate details nearly impossible to attend to. It’s not art because it’s beyond art; it taps into the single universal certainty of our existence, that it has an end, and that someone will be left behind to pick up the pieces and continue on. As an album, as an act of love, or as a candle held against the darkness, it’s a singular work, in this decade or any other. [Amanda Hatfield]
66. Baroness – Yellow & Green (Relapse, 2012)
Baroness have gone through lots of lineup changes and a nearly-fatal bus crash that threatened to end the band’s career, but no matter what happens, they persevere in one form or another. Right now, frontman John Baizley is the only original member, and though they aren’t a band with a clear-cut “classic lineup,” the closest they would come to one is probably any lineup where Baizley, guitarist/backing vocalist Pete Adams, and drummer Allen Blickle are all involved. Blickle had been with the band since day one, and his intricate yet overpowering style became a key element of their sound, and once Adams joined for the making of 2009’s Blue Record, the interplay between his and Baizley’s voices and guitars became crucial to the overall sound on Baroness. The two became a dynamic duo on Blue Record, which entirely eclipsed the band’s already-great debut album (2007’s Red Album), and when it came time for Yellow & Green — the final album with Allen Blickle (who left after the bus crash) — Baroness pushed their sound drastically forward once again. It’s the kind of double album where each disc has its own distinct vibe, and where a band takes advantage of the extra wax to try out just about every idea that comes to mind. They’ve got the two catchiest songs of their entire career (heavy alt-rock anthems “Take My Bones Away” and “March to the Sea”) alongside some downright pretty balladry (“Twinkler”), danceable rock (“Little Things”), psychedelic art rock (“Collapse”), and still so much more. It completely defies the limits of heavy metal, but as far as how daring and uncompromising it is, it’s metal as fuck. It’s the past decade of heavy music’s best answer to Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and like that album, it aims to be a classic and succeeds. [A.S.]
65. Sun Kil Moon – Benji (Caldo Verde, 2014)
Very few songwriters of the modern era have captured the feelings of existential dread and the arbitrariness of life like Mark Kozelek on Sun Kil Moon’s sixth album Benji. Taking inspiration from life experiences both recent and old, Kozelek creates a stunning mosaic of a mid-life crisis, where mortality can seem to lurk around every corner, and where the past becomes even more distant with each day. This decade, Kozelek developed a stream-of-consciousness lyrical style that can more closely resemble a therapy session than traditional songwriting — with ideas that usually stem from small observations that grow into something much larger — and he perfected that style on Benji. On several tracks, Kozelek reflects on the deaths of distant family members, including his second cousin’s sudden passing on “Carissa,” and the more horrific death of his uncle on “Truck Driver,” and he mourns his grandmother and childhood friends on “Micheline.” Kozelek also takes time to reminisce on his childhood, reflect on his first sexual and romantic experiences, and examine a world in which his parents will no longer be alive. With these songs, Kozelek doesn’t just tell you these stories up front; he instead immerses you within the narrative, describing every emotion and thought with precise empathy. On Benji, Kozelek holds a magnifying glass up to his most intimate thoughts, before drawing back the glass to reveal much more universal concepts. By the end of the album, the listener realizes that these stories aren’t simply just random memories strung together, but rather an examination of how fleeting, tragic, and beautiful life can be. [J.N.]
64. Radiohead – The King of Limbs (XL, 2011)
What can I say about The King of Limbs that I didn’t already say in my lengthy defense of the album last year? It somehow became the most underrated album of Radiohead’s career, regularly placed last or second to last (behind Pablo Honey) in rankings of the band’s discography, but it remains a huge gem that’s like nothing else Radiohead has done before or since. It sounds like a live-band interpretation of the electronic artists Thom Yorke loves and collaborates with like Burial and Four Tet, and feels like a spiritual sequel to the trip-hop-informed Kid A. The more widely loved 2010s Radiohead album A Moon Shaped Pool is great, but that’s an easy album for Radiohead to make. On The King of Limbs, they were taking risks and pushing the envelope, and the results remain thrilling. [A.S.]
63. Bjork – Vulnicura (One Little Indian, 2015)
Björk is a great ’90s artist, a great ’00s artist, and a great ’10s artist. For three decades in a row, she has pushed the envelope of electronic art pop, and this decade birthed three essential additions to her already vast, impressive catalog: 2011’s Biophilia, 2015’s Vulnicura, and 2017’s Utopia. It’s so hard to pick a favorite, but the emotional, intimate power of Vulnicura — which details the months before, during, and after Björk’s breakup with Matthew Barney — puts it ever so slightly over the edge. [A.S. & A.H.]
62. My Bloody Valentine – m b v (self-released, 2013)
Which was the bigger shock — that noted noise perfectionist Kevin Shields actually said “I’m done” and released the first My Bloody Valentine album in 22 years, or that he still had the power to blow minds. (Eardrums, we never had a doubt.) Many, many other groups have cribbed from Loveless and Isn’t Anything, but nobody else does it quite like this. Beautiful, crushing, and innovative, m b v proves some things are actually worth the wait. Bring on the next album…whenever you’re ready, Kevin. [B.P.]
61. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (Southeastern, 2015)
When Jason Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers in 2007, who would’ve guessed that he’d go on to become one of the most impassioned singer/songwriters of the 2010s? By 2013, he had started his own label, (temporarily) parted ways with his backing band the 400 Unit, and written Southeastern, his first of two highly emotive solo albums that dug into personal struggles and conveyed Isbell’s tell-all lyricism with some of the most gorgeous melodies of his career. The second of these albums was 2015’s Something More Than Free, and after that Isbell reunited with the 400 Unit and released 2017’s The Nashville Sound, combining the powerful songwriting of his two recent solo albums with a harder rocking edge. All three feel like they’re part of a trilogy and all three are essential, but something puts Something More Than Free justttt over the edge. The songs on this one just tug at the heartstrings a little harder, and “24 Frames” might be the most instant-classic song he ever wrote. If someone ever builds a hall of fame for 21st century folk-rock, that song alone deserves a plaque. [A.S.]
60. Tame Impala – Currents (Modular, 2015)
I wouldn’t have predicted this when their debut album arrived in 2010, but Tame Impala somehow became the go-to reference point for psychedelic pop in the latter half of the 2010s. Rihanna covered them on ANTI, and when major pop acts like Harry Styles and Post Malone and a Paramore side project and even Michelle Branch decided to make things a little trippier, Tame Impala always sounded like the most direct influence. And their influence spread so wide all because the songs on Currents were that good and had that much staying power. As we speak, Tame Impala are finally set to release Currents‘ long-awaited followup in early 2020, and even as that album continued to get delayed, the songs on Currents never aged. Like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and Oracular Spectacular and Merriweather Post Pavilion before it, Currents became the new standard for synthy, 21st century takes on ’60s psych-pop, and it still hasn’t been dethroned. That’s a pretty impressive feat when you consider how many imitators it’s spawned, and how big a lot of them are. Currents just has that special something that keeps it on top. [A.S.]
59. Swans – The Seer (Young God, 2012)
The 2010s saw many veteran bands coming out of hibernation to reunite and make great records, but Swans were the rare reunited band whose new music was sometimes actually better than the music they made the first time around. This was never truer than on The Seer, a two-hour epic double album that’s as majestic and beautiful and horrifying as anything Swans did during their initial run, and then some. Its centerpiece is its 32-minute title track, and once that song sucks you in, the lengthy running time is up before you know it. As much as the album can often sound clanging and discordant, it also has moments of delicacy, thanks in part to gorgeous guest vocals from frequent Swans collaborator Jarboe, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O, and the members of Low and Akron/Family. Swans have basically become a collective with a revolving door lineup over the years, and on The Seer especially, the guests brought as much to the table as the core members. The Seer is also just the most carefully constructed, most pristine sounding album of second-era Swans, if not of the band’s entire career. Swans are a band where filth is always to be expected, but on The Seer, the filth somehow sounds so clean. [A.S.]
58. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp/Fool’s Gold, 2016)
Part of Danny Brown’s appeal is that he’s always been a deeply weird rapper, and his weirdness was at its best on Atrocity Exhibition. The album was primarily produced by Danny’s frequent collaborator Paul White (plus some contributions from Evian Christ, Black Milk, Petite Noir, The Alchemist, and Playa Haze), and even if Danny didn’t rap a word on it, Atrocity Exhibition would be one of the decade’s best electronic albums. It’s his most musically innovative LP production-wise, and Danny rose to the occasion by matching these beats with some of his most out-there bars and most memorable hooks. Totally berserk songs like “Ain’t It Funny,” “Golddust,” and “Dance in the Water” barely sound like hip hop at all, but then in the midst of all that, Atrocity Exhibition includes one of Danny’s best traditional rap songs: “Really Doe.” As a posse cut with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, and Earl Sweatshirt, it’s almost like a spiritual sequel to A$P Rocky’s “1 Train,” and it reminds you that, while Danny loves to make abstract, experimental music, he loves (and is really good at) making real-deal rap too. [A.S.]
57. Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (Southern Lord, 2017)
Way back in 2017 when Nightmare Logic came out, I used to say it solidified them as my favorite modern thrash band. Even then, I was underselling it. Power Trip are one of the best thrash bands, period. They regularly play shows with the bands who defined this genre in the 1980s, and they hold their own next to all of them. It’s important to celebrate originality and the act of breaking ground, but to quote Drake, “It ain’t about who did it first, it’s about who did it right,” and Power Trip did it very, very right. Nightmare Logic gives you all the thrills that you got from the best of 1980s thrash and crossover thrash, but it continues to feel like a new album. They take obvious influences from 30+ year old albums, but while lots of modern thrash bands simply pay homage to those albums, Power Trip breathe new life into the genre. At this point, they’ve been in the game for over ten years and they have their own festival. They’re tastemakers, signifiers of cool, and they don’t seem like they’re going anywhere any time soon. I won’t be surprised if they’ve got an even better album in them, but for now, Nightmare Logic is already going down as a classic. [A.S.]
56. U.S. Girls – In a Poem Unlimited (4AD, 2018)
For years, U.S. Girls were, for all intents and purposes, Meg Remy and a sampler. And it was great. With In a Poem Unlimited, however, she took her vision — a mix of girl groups, disco, new wave and searing feminism — and gave it the full band treatment. Backed by Toronto collective Cosmic Range (that includes her husband, Slim Twig), Remy sounded more powerful and assured than ever, with her best batch of songs to date. A mad as hell call to arms, the album proves that sonically, there can be strength in numbers, too. [B.P.]
55. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas (Mom + Pop, 2013)
It’s no secret that rock music was a little retro-obsessed this decade, but there are ways to make retro feel fresh, and one of those ways is connecting the dots between various past eras and scenes and sounds and tying them together in new ways. And that’s something Australia’s Courtney Barnett has been doing her entire career. Lyrically, she’s one of our generations Next Dylan’s, and musically she’s psychedelia, punk, grunge, slacker rock, and more all at once. She can sound like 1967 as much as she can sound like 1997, but that’s what makes her seem so modern. In an era where the internet makes music more readily available than ever, Courtney Barnett sounds like someone who has absorbed an over-abundance of it. Even more importantly than all of that, though, is that she’s just a natural-born great songwriter, and that was clear from her very first two EPs, which got compiled as The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas and functioned as her “debut album” for a lot of listeners, especially here in America. Some of the best songs she’s ever written are on this release (“Avant Gardener,” “Anonymous Club”), and it remains fascinating to hear just how distinct and compelling her music was from the get-go. [A.S.]
54. Hop Along – Get Disowned (Hot Green, 2012)
Before becoming one of the decade’s most beloved indie rock bands, Hop Along grinded their way through the punk and DIY scene, playing tons of tiny rooms and opening for seemingly any band who asked. They aren’t openers anymore — now they headline decent sized venues on the regular — but back in the first half of this decade, Hop Along were a well-kept secret. They hadn’t really gotten much indie hype machine buzz yet, but they spread like wildfire thanks to good old word of mouth. Even when they’d be on first of three at a big venue, there’d always be a group of people near the front yelling every word. It was always obvious this band was destined for a breakthrough, and that was because of how damn near perfect the songs on Get Disowned were. The opposite of an overnight success, Hop Along had been around as Frances Quinlan’s solo project since the mid 2000s (initially known as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis), and though she released the 2005 solo album Freshman Year as a teenager and some EPs, 2012’s Get Disowned was their full-band debut album and the album that truly started it all. They’d eventually sign to Saddle Creek, have their long-overdue breakthrough, and earn a great amount of acclaim for Get Disowned when the label reissued it in 2016. But initially, Get Disowned came out on Algernon Cadwallader’s tiny, seemingly now-defunct label Hot Green Records, and it was the kind of album that was just too good to stay underground forever. When you hear Frances yell “nobody deserves you the way that I do” on album standout “Tibetan Pop Stars,” you’re reminded why this band was once considered emo, but Get Disowned also has a Neutral Milk Hotel-esque folk side that gives it more of a shambolic, earthy edge than their later albums. They tightened up their sound on 2015’s Painted Shut and successfully navigated more ambitious territory than ever on 2018’s Bark Your Head Off, Dog, but the raw, humble charm of Get Disowned makes this album remain just as much a gem as it was the day it was quietly released. [A.S.]
53. Rihanna – ANTI (Westbury Road/Roc Nation, 2016)
Well before releasing her eighth album ANTI, Rihanna was well established as a generation-defining R&B star, but she’d never really released a great album. For most of her career, that was fine. R&B in the 21st century is pop, and pop is a singles game. But by 2016, some of the most instant-classic albums in the world were coming from stars like Kanye, Beyonce, and frequent Rihanna duetter Drake, so Ri knew she had to do it too. And with ANTI, she did. The atmospheric, downtempo “alt-R&B” craze had also fully risen from the underground to the mainstream at this point, and the EDM-pop direction Rihanna had taken on her last couple albums was already sounding outdated, so Rihanna proved that — like Beyonce had done on her 2013 self-titled album — she could do that sound just as well as (or better than) anyone. She nabbed a guest spot from rising indie-R&B singer SZA a year before SZA released her own masterpiece. Drake, who already started embracing atmosphere and minimalism on 2011’s Take Care, reprised his role as Rihanna duetter on one of the best duets they ever released, “Work.” Dark, moody songs like “Desperado,” “Needed Me,” and “Yeah, I Said It” truly beat the era’s underground R&B singers at their own game. ANTI was an anti-pop record in other ways too. “Same Ol’ Mistakes” is a cover of psych-pop band Tame Impala’s “New Person, Same Old Mistakes,” and even Kevin Parker agrees her version is now the definitive version. And Rihanna added in her dose of psych with the trippy ode to weed “James Joint.” Then there’s “Love on the Brain” and “Higher,” which channel raw, vintage soul in a way that wasn’t trendy, and they remain two of the albums best and most emotionally bare tracks. It’s easy to peg ANTI as the album where Rihanna hopped on a hip bandwagon, but it’s much more than that, and it only sounds better as it ages. [A.S.]
52. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company, 2011)
One of the most innovative electronic musicians of the decade, Nicolas Jaar blended ambient music, beat-driven techno and house, bits of jazz and classical, avant-garde, and even a taste of straight-up pop (“Space Is Only Noise If You Can See”) on his 2011 proper debut album, Space Is Only Noise. Jaar went on to release so much more great material throughout the decade, under his own name, as one half of Darkside (whose sole album is also included on this list), and as Against All Logic. His discography can already feel a bit overwhelming, but if you’re looking for an easy entry point, you can’t go wrong by returning to the breakthrough album that (mostly) started it all. [A.S.]
51. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love (Sub Pop, 2015)
A lot of ’90s-era punk bands made long-awaited comebacks in the 2010s, but none went as smoothly as Sleater-Kinney’s. Right off the bat, Sleater-Kinney announced a reunion tour and a new album the same day. Their reunion was never going to be about nostalgia, and they didn’t even do one round of dates dedicated to the classics. By the time the tour began, No Cities To Love had been released, and their setlists were as dedicated to that album as their 2005 setlists were to The Woods. Not a lot of bands can pull off something like that, but Sleater-Kinney could because No Cities To Love was on par with any of their best albums. It’s stacked with so many great songs, which all have the same strong hooks and same sense of purpose as Sleater-Kinney’s classic songs (and even more guitar heroism). It’s the rare reunion album that you quickly forget is a “reunion album,” because it so naturally and quickly became an essential part of this band’s already-fruitful discography. [A.S.]
50. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (Bad Seed, 2019)
Nearly twenty albums and four decades into his career, it’s remarkable how Nick Cave managed to release one of the greatest albums of his lifetime, Ghosteen, in the year 2019. The album concludes a trilogy of releases — which started with 2013’s Push The Sky Away and 2016’s Skeleton Tree — and by all accounts, it’s a near-perfect, emotionally-complex conclusion to an excellent run of albums. Although Skeleton Tree was released shortly after the passing of Nick’s son Arthur, the material on that record was actually mostly written beforehand. Ghosteen, however, was the first to be written entirely after the fact, and while the topic of death and grief are ever-present on the record, it’s actually a far more transcendent and uplifting album than one might have expected. Despite the album’s runtime clocking in at over an hour, Ghosteen never manages to overstay its welcome, with Nick’s unmistakably sinister, chilling vocal performances demanding the listener’s attention at every turn. He dramatically describes spiritual, heavenly scenes of beauty (as seen on the album’s incredible cover art), and also tragically sings lyrics of mourning. Ghosteen is never more tragic than on the breathtaking 14-minute closer “Hollywood,” where he recalls the Buddhist story of Kisa Gotami, a mother faced with the death of her baby, while dipping into a heart-stopping falsetto. The entire album is drenched in atmosphere from beginning to end, and there’s nothing really close to a conventional song structure to be found on Ghosteen, yet it remains compelling from start to finish. Experiencing Ghosteen, which was divided into two halves, feels like a slow, gradual rise to a rewarding non-spatiotemporal location beyond words. Perhaps that’s in line with Nick’s official description of the album before its release, where he described the record as “a migrating spirit.” At its best moments, the album feels like a continuous transition towards a place other than what we know, as well as being a reminder of how powerful music can be. [J.N.]
49. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia/RCA/ISO, 2016)
When David Bowie first shared the video for his single “Lazarus” in early 2016, one day before dropping his highly-anticipated album Blackstar, the visuals were striking: it showed Bowie rising from a hospital bed, desperately reaching towards the sky, shouting lyrics like “Look up here, I’m in heaven,” and “Oh, I’ll be free, ain’t that just like me?” It was already a heavily impactful, haunting experience at the time, but it became even more unsettling several days later, when Bowie passed away from liver cancer, a secret he had held onto until his death: or so we thought. As an entire body of work, Blackstar is Bowie’s grand, final goodbye, filled with numerous allusions to death, spirituality, and self-eulogy. It’s a wondrously complex, intricately-detailed, and even at times baffling, final statement from a person known for pushing the musical and cultural envelope for decades, which was highly-influenced by Bowie’s then-recent love for Kendrick Lamar’s jazz-influenced masterwork To Pimp a Butterfly, among many other non-rock influences. Sonically, the record is among the wildest and most experimental music of Bowie’s entire career, with highlights like “Tis A Pity She Was a Whore” and “Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)” diving into the worlds of heady experimental rock and jazz. The album often bounces between occult imagery and threatening descriptions of impending death, especially on the ten-minute track which opens the record, and more foreboding, personal moments that showcase Bowie grappling with his inevitable passing. The latter is most apparent on the record’s climactic closing track, “I Can’t Give Everything Away,” where Bowie clearly details his mental state, coming to terms with death itself. He hauntingly sings, “I know something’s very wrong/The pulse returns the prodigal sons/The blackout hearts, the flowered news/With skull designs upon my shoes.” It’s almost disturbing to hear Bowie describe his eventual fate, and subsequent global mourning, with such clarity and poetic beauty, but to listen to moments like these with pure unsettlement would be doing the record an injustice. Blackstar, at its core, is a record made by a man finding peace, and by recognizing that fact, the listener is able to not simply just miss what’s gone, but instead appreciate what’s left behind. Bowie might have passed on, but he couldn’t leave us forever before providing us with one of the most daring albums of his career. It’s not just an album that cemented his legacy as an artist never willing to compromise with challenges, but it also ultimately served to comfort his millions of fans who might have needed it most. [J.N.]
48. Noname – Room 25 (self-released, 2018)
Noname combines rap, spoken word, and live-band jazz on one of the most creative hip hop albums of the decade. To Pimp A Butterfly may have opened the doors for jazz-rap’s comeback this decade, but Noname isn’t following in Kendrick or anyone else’s footsteps on Room 25. Her roots in poetry are obvious from listening to these songs, and her experience with slam poetry and spoken-word puts her in a different lane than most of her peers. But make no mistake, Noname is a rapper; Room 25‘s got the bars and the punchlines to go up against any of the more “traditional” rap albums released this decade. It’s also got the glistening keys and the dizzying basslines to go up against any of the best jazz albums. It’s hard not to mention that, as I write this, Noname is publicly talking about quitting rap. It’d be a bummer to see such a talented artist call it a day at a career peak like the one Noname has been on, but even if she does, Room 25 will live on as a true gem. [A.S.]
47. Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside (Tan Cressida/Columbia, 2015)
Of all the hip hop groups and collectives that emerged this decade, there are perhaps none that have had more influence, cultural dominance, and growth than Odd Future. And within Odd Future, perhaps no (technically former) member had a more unique and thrilling rise than Earl. Once the teenager whose mother caused him to be absent for the group’s instant rise to fame, Earl is now the avant-rap wizard who intentionally works more with abstract underground artists than with the now-famous rappers he once called peers. And the major turning point was 2015’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside. Less experimental than his two latest works but much more unconventional than everything before it, I Don’t Like Shit made it clear that Earl wasn’t interested in following the path to stardom and instead he opened the doors for a career where his fans would embrace his most unexpected creative decisions. It’s a dark, personal, introverted album, and it’s got some of the best bars and punchlines of his career. His two more recent albums saw Earl experimenting with the very idea of what a “bar” could even be, but I Don’t Like Shit is still rooted in some time-honored hip hop traditions. It occupies a middle ground between the Earl who wants to rap his ass off and the Earl who wants to make sonic achievements in music, and that remains a very appealing place for Earl to be. [A.S.]
46. White Lung – Deep Fantasy (Domino, 2014)
The thing about The Shape of Punk to Come is that it wasn’t the shape of punk to come. Punk got a lot more popular in its wake, but none of it really sounded like that album. Back in 2014, when White Lung released their third album and Domino debut Deep Fantasy, I wondered if maybe this would be the shape of punk to come. Well, it turned out this wasn’t either. It sounded like the future of punk in 2014, and it still sounds like the future of punk in 2019, because nobody’s had the guts to try and copy it. Deep Fantasy did everything that its excellent 2012 predecessor Sorry did but with better production and even nastier songs. Sorry was nasty as all hell, but when “Drown with the Monster” opens Deep Fantasy with its low, thundering power chord riff, you know you’re in for a different beast entirely. As on Sorry, the White Lung of Deep Fantasy figured out how to apply gigantic hooks and face-melting fretwork to the tried-and-true formula of short-fast-and-loud punk, managing to defy the genre and strictly adhere to it all at once. The songs on Deep Fantasy are just as intense as Sorry, but the production really helps bring out the best in them and it’s no surprise that this album — which is ever so slightly easier on the ears — helped gain White Lung a bigger fanbase. And like the great hardcore and punk bands of the past, White Lung used their platform to amplify necessary messages in direct opposition to the status quo. A few years before the #MeToo and #BelieveWomen hashtags went viral, White Lung captured the essence of both on Deep Fantasy highlight “I Believe You,” a takedown of rape culture that could’ve been an anthem for the #MeToo movement if it had been released a few years later. Deep Fantasy is a pre-Trump album that only became (sadly) more relevant in the Trump era, and the absolute finest example of real-deal punk music released this decade. It might never be the future of punk, but it still sounds better than whatever punk became in its wake. [A.S.]
45. Tyler the Creator – IGOR (Columbia, 2019)
When Tyler, the Creator started this decade off as a member of the rowdy skate-rap crew Odd Future and the brains behind the dark, shock-rap mixtape Bastard, who would’ve thought he’d end it with the gorgeous, lovelorn, experimental soul song cycle IGOR? It’s hard to pick a top Tyler album, especially when Bastard and Goblin are definitely his most influential, and maybe it’s recency bias to pick IGOR, but IGOR deserves it just because he took such a gigantic leap and stuck the landing. It’s full of huge guests like Solange, Kanye West, and Santigold, but no one — not even Tyler — really ever takes the spotlight. Everyone’s voices swirl into one big melting pot of sounds along with Tyler’s inventive production, and the whole thing almost acts more as a mood piece than a rap album. That said, further listens reveal storylines and lyrical depth and traces of the unique personality that Tyler won the world over with a decade ago. It sounds absolutely nothing like his breakthrough works, yet it’s unmistakably the work of no other artist, and that’s no small feat. [A.S.]
44. Camp Cope – How to Socialise & Make Friends (Run For Cover, 2018)
From the moment you hear Georgia Maq sing, you know it’s something special. Between her unflinching lyricism and the unique quality of her voice, she’s the kind of artist whose work sucks you in immediately and lingers around in your brain long after the record has finished playing. And with Camp Cope, Georgia has applied that voice and her guitar to Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich’s spidery basslines and Sarah Thompson’s sturdy drumming to create one of the most singular, powerful punk bands of a generation. Their self-titled 2016 debut is great, and its even better 2018 followup How to Socialise & Make Friends shows a band who are still clearly on the upward swing. Whether Georgia is battling sexism on the #MeToo-era anthems “The Opener” and “The Face of God,” or mourning the death of her father on the stunning acoustic album closer “I’ve Got You,” she leaves the listener hanging on her every word. [A.S.]
43. Slowdive – Slowdive (Dead Oceans, 2017)
Slowdive were never as influential as My Bloody Valentine or as well known as Ride, but they arguably pulled off the best shoegaze comeback of the decade. First they wowed crowds with their reunion tour, and followed that with a new album that was not only good for a band who hadn’t made one in two decades, but was one of the best albums of 2017 and in the running for Slowdive’s career-best. It’s also modern and relevant while being clearly made by the same band who gave us Souvlaki 24 years before. [B.P.]
42. Low – Double Negative (Sub Pop, 2018)
May all great groups be this wonderfully innovative in their 25th year. With help from Bon Iver/Sylvan Esso collaborator BJ Bunton, Low recast their distinctive sound — with Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker’s distinctive voices still at the center — in fractured electronics. Songs are ripped apart, elements reused throughout the record, and Double Negative travels across sonic extremes (beautiful ambience, bitcrushed noise) to deliver its message of hope through the darkest of times. With it, Low found themselves at a new high. [B.P.]
41. Julia Holter – Ekstasis (RVNG, 2012)
From 2011’s minor breakthrough Tragedy through 2018’s Aviary, experimental pop artist Julia Holter remained on a steady rise and her music gradually transitioned from tucked-away electronic gems to heavily-arranged live-band pieces that were bursting at the seams. No matter how big or small her music sounded, though, it was always meticulously crafted, gorgeous sounding, and highly cerebral. Each album she’s done since Tragedy has been worthy in its own way, but there’s something about 2012’s Ekstasis that made us pick this one for our list. Maybe it’s because it’s the first time she really found her footing for the length of an entire album, and there’s always something extra special about a first like that. Maybe it’s because, even as a more lo-fi, more introverted album than its followups, it manages to be just as ambitious and majestic. Whatever the case, Ekstasis remains one of the decade’s finest examples of experimental pop. [A.S.]
40. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope, 2017)
After releasing two of the decade’s most breathtaking, fleshed-out, intricately arranged hip hop masterpieces, Kendrick Lamar went back to the basics and made the stripped-back, hard-hitting DAMN., an album that largely sounded more like 1995 than 2017. For a lesser artist, this would be an obvious setback, a suggestion that they were out of ideas or unable to reach the ambitious heights of their previous work. For Kendrick Lamar, it’s still one of the very best albums of an entire decade. DAMN. isn’t a sign of Kendrick slowing down; it actually escalated him to new heights, thanks to some of the most immediate songs he ever wrote, including his first No. 1 single, “HUMBLE.” DAMN. could seem like an easy move for Kendrick, but it was actually a risky one. At the height of mumble rap, he proved he was talented enough to still dominate the rap world with the old school mentality of DAMN. And though the songs on DAMN. are his most simple songs since the pre-good kid, m.A.A.d city days, he approached them with the larger-than-life charisma he started to develop in GKMC‘s aftermath. And he snuck in stuff that the pre-GKMC Kendrick could have never pulled off, like the nearly-eight-minute, three-part suite “FEAR.” that would’ve fit on either of DAMN.‘s two direct predecessors, or the jaw-dropping album closer “DUCKWORTH.,” where Kendrick told the origin story of a lifetime. [A.S.]
39. Arctic Monkeys – AM (Domino, 2013)
Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album AM marked a significant turning point for the band: not only did it bring the band a second wave of international success with a new generation of fans, the record also ushered in a completely new sound that distinguished itself from its predecessors. For the majority of the album, the band incorporated a groove-heavy aesthetic that had just as much in common with golden-age hip hop as Black Sabbath. The band cited Dr. Dre as an influence, and his neck-snapping beats can be heard all over AM, like on “One For The Road” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?”, with Alex Turner’s seductive croon not sounding an inch out of place. Elsewhere on the album, the band also flexed their skills at writing quieter ballads, with highlights “Mad Sounds” and the perhaps-ironically-titled “No. 1 Party Anthem” now seen as clear precursors to the lounge-pop sounds explored on their next release, Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino. Arctic Monkeys’ knack for writing killer hooks is not lost on AM either; from the harmonized chorus on “Knee Socks” to the roaring refrain on “R U Mine?”, AM isn’t just one of the band’s most daring releases, it’s also one of their catchiest. It’s a record that’s seductive, tongue-in-cheek, and above all else, tons of fun. [J.N.]
38. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (Mute, 2011)
Anthony Gonzalez always swings for the fences, and when it came to following up 2008’s Saturdays = Youth, he expanded his nostalgic pop sound in every direction with this sprawling double album that seems to run on pure emotion. It’s the best kind of bombast, with layers of synthesizers, guitars, booming drums and “whoa oh” vocals building tidal waves of sound that crash over you. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming may have inspired the formation of a hundred mediocre millennial whoop acts, but that doesn’t dilute this album’s enduring impact. [B.P.]
37. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (Dull Tools, 2012)
Though they released American Specialties in 2011 (originally just as a tape), it was their second album, Light Up Gold, that announced Parquet Courts a major force and DIY indie rock flag-flyers. The album’s killer one-two punch opening salvo of “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time,” was also the band in a nutshell: ultra-hooky, highly quotable (“Socrates died in the fucking gutter!”) arty punk that could be both snarky and sentimental, and bristled with high-tension energy. Written by Texas transplants Andrew Savage and Austin Brown and energized by their new home, Light Up Gold is also a classic New York record, telling tales of “billionaire buses on my unlit streets” and being stoned and starving in Ridgewood, Queens. Parquet Courts have continued to make good on Light Up Gold’s promise but it’s this first impression that sticks with you. [B.P.]
36. Grimes – Visions (4AD, 2012)
Before poptimism took off on a mass scale, Grimes was the living embodiment of poptimism. She sung the praises of Mariah Carey, Tool, and Paramore right alongside Burial, Butthole Surfers, and Elliott Smith, and though no one would bat an eye at that now, she was met by anger, confusion, and accusations of trolling at the time. She was absolutely not trolling, and anyone who heard her breakthrough album and 4AD debut Visions should’ve known that. Grimes emerged out of a world of experimental and electronic music, and while those roots shined brightly on Visions, so did her love of world-dominating music. She was still a small, underground artist at heart, but avant-pop gems like “Genesis” and “Oblivion” quickly went on to compete with actual pop music. Grimes seemed destined to change the pop landscape forever, and she did it, though almost none of her followers were as tasteful or as remarkable as Grimes was on Visions. Art that intentionally looks towards the future like this can often, perhaps ironically, end up sounding dated more quickly than music that initially seemed less innovative. But all these years later, well after the noticeable impact of Grimes’ music settled in, Visions still manages to sound ahead of its time. [A.S.]
35. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride (Columbia, 2019)
On the surface, Father of the Bride is perhaps the most feel-good rock album of 2019 — at least for people who think music that sounds like Paul Simon and the Grateful Dead is “feel-good” — but further listens reveal much more than what immediately meets the eye. At the forefront, these are perfect pop songs. When you dig a little deeper, you’ll find contemplative, sometimes depressing lyricism, and a knack for layering, arrangements, and production that’s damn near genius. FOTB casually defies genre, incorporating elements of country music and jam bands while also enlisting the help of hip hop artists like Drake/Kendrick Lamar producer DJ Dahi and The Internet’s Steve Lacy. It not only never sounds awkward, it sounds unmistakably like the work of Vampire Weekend, who have spent their entire career crafting a sound that remains unique even when they’re wearing their influences on their sleeves. It’s hard to say if Father of the Bride is currently Vampire Weekend’s best album (I understand why a lot of people will give that title to its darker predecessor Modern Vampires of the City), but it’s the most accessible, the most consistently rewarding, and the most refined. It felt like a classic I’d known all my life by the second or third listen, and countless listens later, that hasn’t changed one bit. [A.S.]
34. Kvelertak – Nattesferd (Roadrunner, 2016)
It was obvious that Kvelertak were onto something from the start. Their 2010 debut remains one of the finest debuts in heavy music this decade; it basically put some of the most iconic classic rock, metal, and punk bands in a blender (Metallica, Sabbath, Ramones, Motorhead, Zeppelin, AC/DC, etc), added a dose of extremity via black metal and hardcore, and turned it into something that was full of familiar thrills yet sounded entirely fresh. For a band who never stopped wearing their influences on their sleeves, Kvelertak have been increasingly unique, and most importantly of all, they’ve consistently been fun. The thing that all those aforementioned classic bands have in common, is that you can throw them on at a party or blast them in the car or see them live, and they’ll always be a fucking blast. Kvelertak offer up the same pure adrenaline rush that those bands do, and they do it while crafting innovative songs that genuinely add to the heavy music canon, not just imitate it. Kvelertak pretty much laid out their vision in full on their debut album, and they sharpened their tools more and more each time, which is one reason why Nattesferd is their best thus far. A second reason is this: those comparisons to classic bands always come to mind when I listen to Kvelertak and Meir, but by album three, Kvelertak had become so distinct that the only band I could think about while listening to Kvelertak is Kvelertak (save for the blatant Van Halen homage, “1985,” Nattesferd‘s one misstep). And the third reason is, put simply, Nattesferd just has the best songs Kvelertak ever wrote. Vocalist Erlend Hjelvik was a huge part of Kvelertak’s appeal, and I cautiously await the band’s next album now that he left the band, but they’re a band where the guitars hook me first and the rest is all secondary, and the riffs on Nattesferd rival Page and Iommi and Hetfield and any of the other godlike axe-slingers who paved the way for Kvelertak. Take the entire intro of the title track, or the mid-section of “Berserkr” — these are riffs and arrangements that combine pure badassery, earworm melodicism, and air guitar worthy shreddery to create hard rock and metal perfection. In a genre that has spent the past three or four decades searching for the filthiest, most evil, most discordant sounds in the world, Kvelertak proved you could still break ground with the good old blues scale. [A.S.]
33. Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow (Jagjaguwar, 2019)
After the fruitful first half of Sharon Van Etten’s career that produced four great albums in five years, I never would’ve guessed that her best album yet would come after a five-year break. After gradually transitioning from a folk singer to an indie rocker, Sharon made another change for Remind Me Tomorrow and started embracing synths, but unlike a lot of her indie-rock-gone-synthpop peers, the core of Sharon’s songwriting has remained the same, even as the choice of instrumentation has changed. Sometimes I forget when listening to Remind Me Tomorrow that it’s technically so different than its predecessors, because the quality of Sharon’s voice and the essence of her songwriting remain so familiar. If anything, the biggest change is just that the Remind Me Tomorrow songs are even stronger and more memorable than anything she had done prior. Tracks like “Comeback Kid,” “Jupiter 4,” “Seventeen,” and “You Shadow” already feel as classic as any of the best songs on past Sharon Van Etten records. Remind Me Tomorrow is the kind of album that happens when an artist who already seemed like they reached their full potential aspires to be even greater and succeeds. [A.S.]
32. Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze (Matador, 2013)
Like his obvious forebear Neil Young, Kurt Vile’s music sounds better the deeper you immerse yourself in it. And following his punchy, excellent, breakthrough album Smoke Ring for My Halo, Kurt gave us an album that was built for deep immersion, Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze. It’s full of long, sprawling songs that take their time, but you could never accuse the album of dragging. These songs find a groove and lock into it, sounding hazy and sharp at the same time. It’s psychedelic, but not exactly druggy. (“Sometimes when I get in my zone, you’d think I was stoned, but I never — as they say — touched the stuff,” Kurt clears up on album closer “Goldtone.”) Smoke Ring was an album that I always thought sounded best driving with the windows down, but I might not recommend driving while listening to Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze; its tranquilizing effect may be impairing. I’ve always found Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze to — true to its title — sound best on those sunny spring mornings where you can feel the warmth coming but the chill and the dew from the previous night is still there. (It was smart for Kurt to release this thing in early April.) Like the best folk-rock songs even do, these songs harness the feelings of the earth, the air, the sun. It’s an album that’s so organic and human, it’s no wonder that it’s endlessly fresh and easy to latch onto. [A.S.]
31. Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (Interscope, 2019)
Every time a new Lana Del Rey album comes out, I say to myself “this is it, the apex, she’ll never top this.” And then of course she always, always does. The incremental improvements and refinements that have taken place throughout her already-impressive career seem to come to complete fruition on Norman Fucking Rockwell, a frighteningly well-realized album that feels like a true and complete encapsulation of Lana’s unique talent as an artist. She’s always had a skill for anachronism, and here the bridging of Laurel Canyon folk and gender relations in the age of Tinder works wonders. This is hardly a ground-breaking statement, but it’s amazing how much of an L.A., right now album this is. The juxtaposition of “Dennis’s last stop before Kokomo” and “the culture is lit” capture the character of a certain part of the city and a certain type of person who lives there with a bizarre clarity of gesture (I will not be getting more specific than this). And the main thing is, these are by far the best songs of her career, full of sticky melodies and ineffable moments of grace. The whispered Neil Young invocation on “Mariners Apartment Complex” sends absolute chills down my spine, as does the layering of melodies on “Fuck It I Love You,” or the hushed intimacies of “in the car I’m a star and I’m burning through you” on “Love Song.” She’ll likely release an even better album in a couple of years and continue to make me look like a fool, but I’ll say it again right now: this is it, the apex, she’ll never top this. [R.S.F.]
30. Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop, 2019)
In 1976, Karen Carpenter called Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. In 2019, Natalie Mering called back. An album of otherworldly beauty, Weyes Blood’s Titanic Rising is like a ’70s classic that has been dislodged from the constructs of time and space. “I try to be futuristic and ancient at once, which is a difficult alchemy,” Mering said when the album was announced. “It’s taken a lot of different tries to get it right.” Originally planned for 2018, we didn’t actually get her first record for Sub Pop till April 2019 but Titanic Rising was worth the wait. Working with co-producer Jonathan Rado (who knows his way around classic Laurel Canyon folk-pop sounds) and musicians like Blake Mills, The Lemon Twigs’ Brian & Michael D’Addario, Chris Cohen and others, Mering got it all right, casting an even wider sonic net than on Front Row Seat to Earth. The magic is a mix of swoony strings and slide guitar that, with Mering’s shiver-inducing voice, lowers the gravity in any room the album is played. Songs like “Something to Believe,” “Andromeda,” and “Mirror Forever” absolutely soar.
It’s not pure aural nostalgia, though; the arrangements throw in curveballs that The Carpenters or Joni Mitchell would never include. Opener “A Lot’s Gonna Change” drops perfectly clunky robot noises into the song’s orchestral crescendo, and the strings on “Andromeda” are degraded like a cassette tape left on the dashboard of a car in the middle of July. For all the surreal futurism in the production (and on the album’s amazing underwater artwork), however, Mering’s lyrics remain relatable to most earthlings, poetic and poignant but as crystal clear as her voice. She sings of feeling lost and alone, realizing love never works like it does in the movies, and the search for meaning and hope in a world that doesn’t seem to have any. “Looking up to the sky for something I may never find,” she sings on showstopper “Andromeda,” and we too are lost in the stars. [B.P.]
29. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble, 2014)
Transgender Dysphoria Blues wasn’t so much a comeback, as it was the beginning of Against Me!’s second life. After starting out in the early 2000s as a beloved underground folk punk band, they went through a divisive major-label period in the late ’00s and early ’10s, and then took a bit of a hiatus from music as singer Laura Jane Grace became one of the most high-profile rock singers to come out as transgender. Around the same time, the major label deal ended, lineup changes ensued (and Against Me! secured drum wiz Atom Willard), and then the new-and-improved Against Me! wrote the best album they ever made, Transgender Dysphoria Blues. It often tackles Laura’s coming-out and gender transition head on, while also working in an ode to a dead friend (“Dead Friend”) and one of the greatest punk rock fuck-yous of the decade (“Black Me Out”). It can’t be easy to write about this kind of stuff, but Laura did so incisively, and came out with a handful of definitive trans punk anthems in the process. Its subject matter is of course a large part of what makes it so significant, but it’s not the only reason; the message is matched by the best songwriting and production of Against Me!’s career. [A.S.]
28. Vince Staples – Summertime 06 (ARTium/Blacksmith/Def Jam, 2015)
For someone who’s been called an anti-rapper, it’s interesting that Vince Staples’ most monumental work thus far is stepped in hip hop tradition. Vince’s “anti-rapper” tendencies were more exposed later on, and he’s released some excellent music that defied traditional rap, but before all that, he proved he could master the type of rap album that rap fans have sought after since Illmatic. Summertime ’06 is one of those storytelling rap albums that drop you right into the artist’s own life and city, and paints a vivid picture of the people, places, and experiences that made them. Production-wise, it’s a bleak, minimal album (helmed almost entirely by veteran Chicago producer No I.D.), and the vision for the sonics on this album is as focused as the vision in Vince’s raps. For most artists, an album this carefully constructed is the kind of thing you might spend your entire career building towards. For Vince, it was a launching point. [A.S.]
27. Phoebe Bridgers – Stranger in the Alps (Dead Oceans, 2017)
This year, Phoebe Bridgers has been busy with Better Oblivion Community Center, a new collaborative project with Conor Oberst, and that’s a great fit, as Phoebe is kind of the Conor Oberst of her generation. With Bright Eyes, Conor gave young people around the world hushed singer/songwriter songs that captured all of the uncontrollable emotions they were dealing with, and with her 2017 debut album Stranger in the Alps (which Conor also guests on), Phoebe did the same. Phoebe just has that ability to write songs where the words find clever ways to mirror universal feelings, and the melancholic melodies are the perfect vessel to deliver them with. When Phoebe sang “I have emotional motion sickness / Somebody roll the windows down,” she came out with a line as iconic as anything any of the Away Message-era emo bands wrote in the previous decade. And that’s far from the only quotable one-liner that Stranger has to offer. It’s one of those albums where almost every song was my favorite at one point or another, and I imagine I’m not alone in feeling this. It established her as a masterful songwriter and a masterful interpreter — when she covers Mark Kozelek’s “You Missed My Heart” as the penultimate track, she not only entirely makes it her own, she may have bested the original. Though this list unsurprisingly has more bands than solo artists, emo needs that quiet singer/songwriter, that heartbreaker who gets thousands of people singing every word as if they were their own. In the 2010s, that singer/songwriter was Phoebe Bridgers. [A.S.]
26. Perfume Genius – Too Bright (Matador, 2014)
Perfume Genius has spent the entire decade proving himself as one of the most affecting songwriters in the current generation of indie, and each album has been different and great in its own way. If this list was longer, it might have ended up with all four Perfume Genius albums on it, and it’s so hard to pick a favorite, but Too Bright deserves it because it was the boldest, most daring change in Perfume Genius’ discography and he pulled it off spectacularly. Before Too Bright, Perfume Genius was most known for melancholic singer/songwriter material that aimed straight at the heart, but on Too Bright, Perfume Genius was aiming for the body too. Songs like “Grid,” “Longpig,” and “My Body” are songs you feel in your bones, and they’re also dark, innovative songs that — along with Grimes, EMA, Chelsea Wolfe, and a few others — helped kickstart a mini industrial revival within indie this decade. Too Bright also makes sure to include a little classic Perfume Genius, like on album closer “All Along,” which is as powerfully bare-bones as anything on his first two albums, and then there’s “Queen,” a generational anthem that remains the single best song Perfume Genius ever wrote. [A.S.]
25. James Blake – James Blake (Polydor, 2011)
The best album of the decade is something that can and will be debated for eternity, and not something we can even be sure we got “right” on this very list. But the most influential? It’s gotta be James Blake’s debut. Upon arrival, the album had a few clear predecessors — the auto-tuned folk of Bon Iver’s “Woods,” the crackling, minimal production of Burial’s Untrue, the spaciousness and minimalism of The xx’s debut — but it packaged those elements in a way we’d never really heard before. At this point, we’ve heard James Blake’s sound many times, as he influenced a massive chunk of both mainstream and underground artists. His formula was a direct predecessor to the “alt-R&B” movement, and his atmospheric, downtempo production mixed with airy, crooned vocals eventually made its way to Drake, Beyonce, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, and a handful of other megastars. James Blake might not sound so revolutionary now, as you can basically turn on the radio and hear music that sounds like it, but it’s almost all because of that album, and that will never change, no matter how many famous people copy him. [A.S.]
24. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty, 2015)
Sufjan Stevens’ songwriting topics have been steadily diverse throughout his two-decade career, but on 2015’s Carrie and Lowell, his mindset as a songwriter felt more intensely focused than ever. After experimenting with bold maximalism on his previous LP The Age of Adz, which toyed with glitchy rhythms and dizzying electronics, Sufjan returned to his sparser, folk-based roots this time around, in what has become his most deeply personal and emotionally affecting release to date. Carrie and Lowell revolves around Sufjan’s early years spent in Eugene, Oregon, as well as the death of his estranged mother, whose name appears on the title of the album. With blunt honesty, Sufjan tackles his own personal demons, manifested in memories of abandonment (“Should Have Known Better”), as well as crippling grief (“The Only Thing,” “No Shade in The Shadow of The Cross”) and strained love (“All of Me Wants All of You”), all of which is delivered through Sufjan’s distinct use of Biblical references and mythical allusions. Perhaps the album’s most poignant and crushing moment comes during “Fourth of July,” where Sufjan imagines a hypothetical conversation between himself and the spirit of his dead mother. Through this imaginary conversation, Sufjan dissects his own personal struggles with loss, as he reaches for a sense of hope and closure that he might not ever reach in real life. It’s graceful yet forcefully heartbreaking, gentle yet harmful. And it contains perhaps the album’s biggest thesis statement: “We’re all gonna die.” [J.N.]
23. Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar, 2011)
The days when Justin Vernon was the guy who made his album in the cabin in the woods are ancient history, and the thing that closed the door on that narrative for good was Bon Iver’s 2011 sophomore album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver. For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those raw, accidentally classic albums where the magic will probably never be replicated, but Bon Iver, Bon Iver proved Justin was pretty damn great in a proper studio too. Since then, he’s continued to drastically change up his style with both Bon Iver and his several side projects and collaborations, and Bon Iver, Bon Iver remains one of the key elements in securing his lasting relevancy and longevity. The album has plenty of the delicate folky moments that fit the Bon Iver stereotype, but it also proved Justin could make just about any type of music sound like Bon Iver, from the badass, nearly-metal drums of “Perth” to the cheesy ’80s balladry of “Beth/Rest.” [A.S.]
22. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge, 2010)
It seemed insane when Arcade Fire won the Grammy for Album of the Year for The Suburbs, but going by this year’s nominations (including Bon Iver, Vampire Weekend, Lana Del Rey, Lizzo, Billie Eilish), it now seems less like a fluke and more like the signifier of a sea change. Indie and pop spent the entire decade crossing over in interesting ways, and who better to bring indie to the mainstream at the start of the decade than Arcade Fire? They had already dominated indie in the previous decade with Funeral and Neon Bible, and now here was an album that transcended indie, The Suburbs. At the time, I thought it was a little too safe compared to its predecessors, but it’s held up over the years as an album that feels just as classic in different ways. On Funeral, Arcade Fire sound like they wanted to be the biggest band in the world, but on The Suburbs they sound like they already are. It’s got that effortless confidence that you hear on albums like Abbey Road or Rumours, and can only exude after years of skyrocketing upwards. Like those two albums, it’s so easily listenable that you almost start to take for granted how powerful it is. [A.S.]
21. Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop, 2010)
For a band who entered dream pop well after most of the genre’s definitive classics had been released, it’s pretty amazing how Beach House have come to help define the genre themselves. Dream pop has an endless string of Cocteau Twins and MBV imitators, but Beach House don’t sound like any of those bands. They developed a sound that set them apart not just from their forebears, but from just about every other dominant indie band this past decade. And while picking a favorite Beach House album isn’t always easy, it’s tough to deny that their now-classic sound was perfected on Teen Dream. No matter what they’ve done since, this album continues to hold up next to all of it, and it’s stacked from top to bottom with some of their most classic songs. From rappers to metal bands, Beach House were frequently namechecked this decade as an influence on anyone who wanted to explore a more ethereal sound, and all the ingredients artists spent the last ten years borrowing from Beach House are laid out on Teen Dream. [A.S.]
20. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge, 2011)
Dan Bejar has made amazing records with acoustic guitars and cheap keyboards, but the widescreen soundscape he created for Kaputt is like the glamorous, shabby chic world of his lyrics come to widescreen life. Here we get saxophones, flutes and trumpets, soulful backing vocals, and layers upon layers of synthesizers on which Bejar hangs his stream-of-conscious lyrics, sounding all the more romantic with this lush backing. It’s a musical snapshot of a city where the streets are always rain-slicked and reflecting neon, drum machines power the taxis, and the fire escapes are populated with have a saxophonists. One imagines this is the sound Bejar always hears in his head when he’s writing songs like “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker,” “Chinatown,” “Blue Eyes” and “Downtown.” It’s Bryan Ferry in a rumpled suit. It’s Al Stewart fronting New Order. Or as Bejar puts it on the glorious title track, “It all sounds like a dream to me.” It still does. [B.P.]
19. Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness (Jagjaguwar, 2014)
Angel Olsen has never made the same album twice, and if you listen to the bare-bones vintage-style folk of her 2012 debut album Half Way Home and jump straight to 2019’s lush, atmospheric All Mirrors, you may be surprised that both are the same artist. But if you listen to her discography as a whole, you can usually hear the seeds of one album being sewn on its predecessor. Her 2014 sophomore album Burn Your Fire for No Witness remains arguably her most pivotal, her most in limbo, and that musical tug-of-war is what makes it remain her most exciting album. Songs like the hissy “Unfucktheworld” and the breathtaking, Leonard Cohen-esque “White Fire” sound like perfections of her debut, rockers like “Forgiven/Forgotten,” “Hi-Five,” and “High & Wild” predict the more accessible side explored on 2016’s My Woman, and maybe you can even say the slow-burning “Dance Slow Decades” is an early example of the sound Angel would fully execute on All Mirrors. It also has moments that are unique to this album, like the soaring, show-stealing closer “Windows,” which remains one of the most stunning and unique gems in Angel’s catalog. [A.S.]
18. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD, 2010)
It would be hard to top the year Bradford Cox had in 2008 that gave us both Deerhunter’s Microcastle/Weird Era Continued and Atlas Sound’s Let the Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel, but his hot streak continued with this joyous record that plays with ideas of memory and nostalgia both lyrically and musically. For all the Cox classics here (“Revival,” “Helicopter,” the Jay Reatard tribute “He Would Have Laughed”), Halcyon Digest also revealed band member Locket Pundt as a songwriting force of his own, in particular the soaring “Desire Lines” which is the record’s biggest earworm. [B.P.]
17. Mitski – Bury Me At Makeout Creek (Double Double Whammy, 2014)
Before Mitski became one of the most iconic, definitive indie rock artists of the 2010s, she self-released a couple then-little-known albums and then had her first breakthrough with Bury Me At Makeout Creek, which came out on LVL UP’s Double Double Whammy label and quickly led to Mitski becoming a regular in indie/punk circles. By time she released 2016’s Puberty 2 and its even more universally loved 2018 followup Be the Cowboy, Mitski had fully transcended the indie/punk world that helped her break through, and as great as her two most recent albums are, Bury Me at Makeout Creek still shakes us to our cores the most. That’ll happen with heart-clenching lines like “I want a love that falls as fast as a body from the balcony” and “If your hands need to break more than trinkets in your room / You can lean on my arm as you break my heart.” [A.S.]
16. Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (Def Jam, 2012)
Channel Orange contains an embarrassment of riches. This is lush, perfectly modulated R&B full of pellucid storytelling details. It’s an album of characters and musical styles which almost seem built around their stories, but there’s no detachment or distance in Frank’s cinematic songwriting. Instead we feel deeply immersed in the characters’ longing (“Thinkin Bout You”) or their languor (“Super Rich Kids”) or their anguish (“Bad Religion”). It’s a rich, enveloping listen; coming back to it years later, it’s almost shocking how many great songs are here. There’s “Sweet Life,” a Stevie Wonder impression par excellence filled with incredible turns of phrase (“my TV ain’t HD that’s too real). “Forrest Gump” is perfect, perhaps the purest pop song here, a singalong that’s impossible to dislodge from your head. And all these years later, it’s still impossible to shake “Bad Religion,” an ultimate testament to his songwriting and performing. It doesn’t make sense that a song with such an obvious writerly conceit could be so nakedly vulnerable, but somehow, like a magic trick, it works. The confluence of Frank’s suddenly straining voice and the sheer sadness and clever poetry of the lyrics on the chorus never fails to make me well up. The lyric-writing here (and elsewhere) is remarkable for how closely it skirts up against good old-fashioned cliche, gaining power as it does so. It makes me think of Bruce Springsteen or Billy Joel in its unapologetic short-storyishness. Compared to the sparse, hushed, elliptical songwriting of Blonde, this is a full-throated opus, and one that continues to wow. [R.S.F]
15. SZA – Ctrl (TDE/RCA, 2017)
Kudos to SZA for sticking to EPs for a large chunk of her early career, because by the time she made her debut album, she was prepared to release a masterpiece. She was one of the early adopters of the “alt-R&B” sound that took off in the early 2010s, and she was good at it from the start, but with more and more new artists in this style emerging by the day, the stakes were higher if you wanted to stand out. And as many of SZA’s peers kept doing what they were doing, she made a gigantic leap with her debut album Ctrl. Some of the usual downtempo, atmospheric R&B of her EPs is on Ctrl, but there’s also raw, guitar-oriented singer/songwriter songs bookending the album (“Supermodel” and “20 Something”), upbeat indie pop (“Prom”), hazy neo-soul (“Drew Barrymore”), tasteful radio pop (the Travis Scott-featuring “Love Galore”), and more. And the musical diversity is matched by forefronted vocals and a lyrical depth that was mostly absent from the EPs. When a genre booms like R&B did in the 2010s, you need a real sense of personality to stand out. On Ctrl, SZA has more personality in her pinky than most of her peers have in their whole bodies. [A.S.]
14. Robyn – Body Talk (Konichiwa, 2010)
In a scene that would come to be considered an early 2010s millennial touchstone, Lena Dunham closed out the third episode of her HBO series, Girls, as a bedroom-dancing Hannah Horvath, shaking it out to Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own.” It’s the first and best track on Body Talk, one of the decade’s finest pop albums and the finale to Robyn’s incredibly fruitful 2010, which saw her releasing one banger after another over multiple releases. From crying on the dancefloor to strutting her stuff as an untouchable fembot, and everything in between, the songs on Body Talk not only irresistibly inspire movement, but bring vulnerability and humanity to visions of a glitzed up club. There’s a reason they’ve been so known to lead to, not only solo dance sessions, but massive subway singalongs. Even when they delve into emotions like heartbreak, they create a fierce bright urgency to listen to what your body wants to do and move. [A.H.]
13. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella, 2010)
It’s safe to say that Kanye had a pretty weird decade, and given where things have gone, MBDTF feels now like both an omen and a reminder of days gone. It’s a fascinating bridge between two parts of his career: the lush, cinematic orchestrations and aching melodicism that characterized his aughts output are merged with some of the darkness, ugliness, and sadness which would fully flower on Yeezus. And on top of being a particularly interesting benchmark in the career arc of perhaps our most interesting popular artist, oh yeah, it also has a very strong case as his flat-out best album. The opening five-song run, from “Dark Fantasy” through “Monster,” is completely staggering–his powers as a producer, his curation of collaborators, the sheer force of talent on these songs is completely exhilarating. The second half isn’t much of a comedown–songs like “Hell of a Life” and “Devil in a New Dress” have aged into stone cold classics, easier to take for granted than some of the bigger swings here but just as muscular and satisfying. And then there’s “Runaway,” which for my money is still The definitive Kanye song, his healthy bluster and self-pity leveraged against one another into something that captures his specific brilliance with incredible singularity, messy and big and funny and sad and glorious, almost too much for one song to contain. In light of recent events, the irony of the album closing with an extended Gil Scott-Heron passage is considerable. But Kanye has always been full of contradictions, which for a while it seemed like he was all too happy to lay bare. No album in his discography captures the thrill of those contradictions like this one. [R.S.F]
12. Tribulation – The Children of the Night (Century Media, 2015)
Since forming in the mid 2000s, Sweden’s Tribulation had been gradually transforming from a relatively straightforward death/black/thrash metal band into something much grander, and by 2015’s The Children of the Night, they finally kicked the doors of their sound wide open. Bassist/vocalist Johannes Andersson still sounded as evil as he did in the band’s early days, but the band started embracing the melodic riffs of arena rock and the swagger of glam, while also diving deeper into the atmospheric psychedelia they began exploring on their previous album. It made for a record that managed to fully capture the extremity of black and death metal while also remembering that metal doesn’t always have to be dead serious; it can also be really fucking fun. For the perfect example of this, look no further than “Melancholia,” one of the most fun songs — metal or otherwise — released this entire decade. And then of course stick around for the rest of The Children of the Night, because while “Melancholia” is one of those songs where a band just so happens to strike gold, the other songs on this album rip pretty hard themselves. [A.S.]
11. Solange – A Seat At The Table (Saint/Columbia, 2016)
Once “Beyonce’s indie sister” who took Bey and Jay-Z to that fateful Grizzly Bear show, Solange finally lived up to the potential that she had since at least 2008’s Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams on her elegant, meticulously crafted 2016 album A Seat At The Table. She was still interested in both indie and R&B (Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth contributes to the album about as much as R&B/soul vet Raphael Saadiq, and guests include fellow indie/R&B crossover acts Sampha and Kelela), but she wasn’t straddling the line between those genres so much as she was blurring it completely. A Seat At The Table is one of the decade’s best R&B albums, best soul albums, best indie/alternative albums, and probably best a few other things too. It’s got the classic, live-instrumentation feel of ’70s soul, but it never feels retro and it always feels forward-thinking. It’s an album that celebrates black culture and rages against the racism that still tries to attack the culture today. Solange calls it a “project on identity, empowerment, independence, grief and healing,” and all of those themes and emotions are felt throughout A Seat At The Table, from the powerful spoken word interludes to the songs themselves. [A.S.]
10. The National – Trouble Will Find Me (4AD, 2013)
The National were on an upward swing for the first decade of their career, and it all culminated in High Violet, which remains the band’s most meticulously crafted, near-perfect, built-to-be-classic album. But perfect doesn’t always mean best. Maybe The National felt there was no higher they could go than High Violet, maybe they were burnt out on striving for perfection, because they followed High Violet with Trouble Will Find Me, an album that accepts its own flaws and is even better because of them. The Dessner and Devendorf brothers sound more relaxed, and Matt Berninger sounds more honest, less concerned with well-crafted one-liners and more concerned with baring his raw emotion, diary-style. It seemed like it’d be a more minor release than its three direct predecessors upon arrival, but it’s held up at least as well as High Violet, Boxer, and Alligator. These songs have proven to have real staying power, and in hindsight, Trouble Will Find Me isn’t the end of one era of The National but the beginning of another. Up through High Violet, The National sounded like they were searching for the most perfect version of themselves. Since Trouble Will Find Me, they’ve tossed out the book on what “being The National” even means. [A.S.]
9. PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (Island, 2011)
By making one of the most thrilling reinventions of the decade, PJ Harvey secured herself as a creative force in the ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s. It’s not easy to say, but there are days when I feel sure that Let England Shake is PJ Harvey’s best album, and it sounds nothing like the dark, bluesy, grungy sound of what will always be her most classic era. Instead, Let England Shake has a still-tough-to-pin-down sound that’s breezy yet bold, warming yet devastating, down to earth yet not of this world. And it’s all matched by some of PJ Harvey’s most compelling storytelling, here focused on England during wartime. The one thing Let England Shake does have in common with PJ’s earlier classics, is that it feels larger than life. [A.S.]
8. Beyonce – Lemonade (Parkwood/Columbia, 2016)
It’s tempting to compare Beyonce’s transition from girl group member and singles-oriented artist to Album Artist to previous similar examples like Sgt. Pepper’s or Thriller, but the evolution that Beyonce underwent in the 2010s is nearly unprecedented. When she released 2011’s 4, you could have mistaken the album’s classic soul vibes as an admission that Beyonce was retiring from world domination and settling into a more relaxed phase of her career, but in hindsight it was the turning point that opened the doors for the Queen Bey to make whatever music she wanted. Her 2013 self-titled album was a daring, adventurous album that took the burgeoning “alt-R&B” movement from the underground to the mainstream and single-handedly changed the way major pop stars release their records. It breathed new life into her career and secured her legacy as one of the all-time greats, and then it all culminated in Lemonade. As a highly ambitious but lean, accessible, no-filler album that incorporates just about every relevant genre of music in the 21st century, Lemonade can almost seem too perfect, like it was designed in a lab to win Album of the Year at the Grammys (despite being robbed by Adele, who agreed Beyonce should have won). And it’s easy to get cynical about that kind of thing, but Beyonce is far from the only person who attempted to make a potential masterpiece like this. She’s just one of the few who pulled it off. [A.S.]
7. Kanye West – Yeezus (Def Jam/Roc-A-Fella, 2013)
Abrasive, experimental music can always be found in the underground, but it’s often even more exciting when a genuinely popular, pop-friendly artist risks everything at the height of their fame and releases an overtly experimental album, and that’s exactly what Kanye did with Yeezus. His previous album was My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the album that proved Kanye was capable of pulling off a true pop music masterpiece. It remains one of the best-reviewed albums of the decade, and it’s home to some of his biggest songs. He kept the momentum going the following year with his Jay-Z collab Watch the Throne, and the year after that with his Cruel Summer compilation, and he came into 2013 with absurdly high anticipation for his next proper album. Instead of delivering anything at all like MBDTF, he put out this dark, abrasive, industrial-inspired album with no pre-release single and still no song (besides album closer “Bound 2,” the one Yeezus song that sounds like Old Kanye) you could picture hearing on pop radio. Where MBDTF was the kind of album that seemed like it was written to be critic proof, Yeezus is an album that Kanye knew would be divisive, and that could have ended up as a massive failure. But like many great pop masterminds before him, Kanye figured out how to interject these more difficult songs with hooks that became as memorable as the MBDTF songs. Next to all the loud, buzzing synths and thunderous drums, Yeezus has some of Kanye’s most incisive lyricism too. Before he he started making inconceivable statements about slavery in late 2010s, “New Slaves” compared slavery and segregation to present-day racism, and “Blood on the Leaves” married a pitched-up sample of Nina Simone’s recording of anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit” to unrest in Kanye’s own life (and booming synths that solidified TNGHT as one of the decade’s most beloved beatmaking duos). In addition to TNGHT, Yeezus saw Kanye working with underground electronic musicians like Arca and Evian Christ, and other trailblazing singers/songwriters like Frank Ocean and Justin Vernon, and Yeezus helped position Kanye as a superstar with a mutual appreciation between him and the underground. Yeezus put a lot of smaller artists on the map, and it also earned Kanye more respect from the experimental music community than you usually see from someone as pop-friendly as him. The one thing it didn’t do, is change the direction that mainstream rap would head in. For better or for worse, Yeezus was the first Kanye album that didn’t spawn tons of imitators, and at least partially for that reason, there’s still nothing else in the world like it. [A.S.]
6. Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel… (Clean Slate, 2012)
The Idler Wheel is Fiona Apple’s best record. It’s not necessarily her best collection of songs (When the Pawn and Extraordinary Machine are, pound-for-pound, pretty much just as good), but it’s definitely her best album, her clearest and most aesthetically developed statement by a mile. There was always a sense with her earlier work, especially given her public label battles and producer problems, that she was simply too good to make a perfect album, that the sum of her talents was beyond what could be accommodated by a risk-averse industry and less talented collaborators. But The Idler Wheel, a deeply perfect album, dispels those doubts immediately. The production is spacious, the instrumentation intuitive and muscular. It sounds like we’re hearing her play the piano in her living room, accompanied by a few close friends who really get what she’s doing. And, it turns out, that’s what we’re really hearing! The album has the chaotic rush of freedom, the sound of an artist no longer trying to contain herself. The result is something that fights off chaos at every turn—the cathartic wave of children’s voices on “Werewolf,” the skittering, manic exhortations of “Daredevil,” the devastating howls of contempt on “Regret.” Certain melodic turns can take your breath away; when she flies into falsetto on “Left Alone,” or when she layers herself in endless singalong on “Hot Knife.” She pivots from sad introspection to aspirational positivity to snarling anger. She’s relentlessly critical, both of herself and people in her life, and the truth of that criticism leaves a mark. It contains some of the saddest, funniest turns of phrase I’ve ever heard, a facility with metaphor that rivals whatever canonized poetry or literature you want to cite. It’s the career-topping masterpiece by an artist who didn’t really need such a thing, and for 8 years I’ve felt lucky to have it. [R.S.F]
5. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION (Loma Vista, 2014)
By the time St. Vincent released her 2014 self-titled album, you might’ve thought you had her pegged. It followed 2011’s instantly-canonized Strange Mercy, which at that point was her best album by a mile in an already-great career, and the self-titled was sort of a more streamlined version of Strange Mercy. It suggested that perhaps Annie Clark had finally found the sound she’d been searching for, and was now content to hit cruise control. But then she ripped it up and started again with MASSEDUCTION, an album which pushed St. Vincent’s sound to multiple extremes, from the most honest and human (“New York,” “Happy Birthday, Johnny”) to the most zany and robotic (“Pills,” “Masseduction”), and plenty of the in-between. It’s one of those albums where almost every song could’ve been the single, and if you saw a MASSEDUCTION live show — which were as ever-changing and unpredictable as St. Vincent’s recorded work — you’d probably agree that the songs that were singles never overshadowed the deeper cuts. Annie also kept breathing new life into these songs, first with “Fast Slow Disco,” then with the piano-and-vocal version of the album (with the slightly different title, MassEducation), and then again just this month with an extremely well curated remix album. It’s over two years old, and it still feels like a gift that keeps on giving. And none of these MASSEDUCTION-related projects would even be effective if the songs weren’t so strong in the first place. [A.S.]
4. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope, 2015)
If there was ever doubt Kendrick Lamar reached the head of the rap totem pole, his 2015 LP To Pimp a Butterfly all but confirmed it. A grand, ambitious leap from the already-masterful storylines and Compton-based cultural dissections on his sophomore album good kid, m.A.A.d city three years prior, To Pimp a Butterfly showcased Kendrick diving headfirst into the modern black musical canon, experimenting with free jazz, funk, soul, and spoken word nostalgia — all the while creating a sonic palette unmatched by just about any other rapper in the current era. Throughout the album’s 79-minute runtime, Kendrick brings along black musical legends of generations past (such as George Clinton, Ronald Isley, Snoop Dogg) to craft an almost post-nostalgic sound. Moments like the frantic, avant-jazz instrumentals on “For Free (interlude),” or the bouncy funk elements on “These Walls” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” pay homage to the past while pushing forward something new altogether. Kendrick also proved himself to be one of the most inimitable lyricists in modern rap, through his instantly-recognizable flow to his stellar wordplay and memorable storytelling. From weaving together unforgettable stories of selfishness and greed (“How Much A Dollar Cost”) to internalized racism (“The Blacker The Berry”) and journeys from self-hatred to self-acceptance (“u” and “i”), Kendrick balances many relevant topics within society at large, in a way that feels both urgent and timeless. And then there’s “Alright,” which — after Trump got elected — became the uplifting and hopeful anthem of a generation. Above all else, the album is representative of Kendrick’s own personal growth, as the sequence of the album, with the help of a recited poem interspersed throughout the record, documents his journey from a young man on the streets of Compton, to a famous rapper seeking to free many young men from the struggles he also faced. [J.N.]
3. Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry, 2016)
Frank Ocean could’ve been a pop star if he wasn’t so disillusioned about how the whole system works, and as Blonde proved, the more he shied away from fame, the better his music got. Its 2012 predecessor Channel Orange remains a near-perfect classic, but Frank Ocean doesn’t want to be perfect, and that’s what makes this weirder, more flawed followup feel even more special. When Frank came to NYC in support of Blonde to headline Panorama, he put on one of the weirdest headlining festival sets I’ve seen this entire decade. He made the massive feel stage feel intimate, without ever feeling too small. That’s how Blonde feels too; the album sees Frank making pop music on his own terms, following his heart and ignoring what major labels and the Grammys and the radio are telling him to do. The result is a raw, bare-bones singer/songwriter album that’s almost more like Elliott Smith (who he interpolates on this album) than like the kind of modern R&B he helped define on his earlier projects. [A.S.]
2. Joanna Newsom – Have One On Me (Drag City, 2010)
There’s a particular thrill that I get from listening to a Joanna Newsom album that comes from feeling like I’m in a bit overwhelmed. Her songs are so densely and specifically phrased, so full of unexpected twists and turns, both musically and lyrically, that for the first few listens at least I always have the pleasant sensation that I’m straining to decode something. And then a moment inevitably comes when I am able to stop thinking and fall into the rhythms of her songwriting and playing and singing and experience a congruently overwhelming sense of awe at the beauty of what she’s crafted. It’s her specific magic that, through all the compositional complexity and baroque arrangements, she can still strike you right in the heart with all the power and precision of a great pop song. Her triple-album magnum opus Have One On Me is not only her longest (and therefore best) album, it’s also the one that finds the cleanest balance between proggy intellectualism and pop emotionalism. This is in large part due to the beautiful incorporation of certain strains of Americana that hadn’t previously been so obvious, not to mention a handful of songs performed on piano rather than her customary harp. The arrangements are spacious and laid-back, creating a kind of intimacy that’s sometimes productively at odds with the musical virtuosity on display. It’s hard to pick favorites on an album so loaded, but I’ll name a few: “Good Intentions Paving Company” and “Soft As Chalk” are jaunty piano compositions with liltingly lovely folk melodies. “Baby Birch” and “In California” are slow burning harp numbers that build to startling displays of emotion. And album closer “Does Not Suffice” is my pick for best breakup song of the decade, featuring a closing series of lyrics that are plain-spokenly poetic and crushingly sad. [R.S.F.]
1. Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope, 2012)
The onset of free internet rap mixtapes in the late 2000s and early 2010s threatened to overtake the stagnant rap mainstream of the time, and transformation was complete with the release of Kendrick Lamar’s major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city. It was an obvious classic upon arrival — every hook weaved seamlessly into the song and drilled instantly into your brain, every musical arrangement was finessed to the point of perfection, every bar was delivered with exceptional skill, and every lyric left you hanging on Kendrick’s every word as he told you his story of growing up in Compton. It had the narrative arc of Illmatic, the attention to musical detail of Aquemini, and the widespread impact and accessibility of The Eminem Show (which it very recently topped as longest-charting hip-hop studio album on the Billboard 200), and looking at it now, it’s very obviously on the same level as all three of those albums. good kid, m.A.A.d city almost immediately changed the game for both rising and already-popular rappers. After it came out, it felt like almost everyone tried to up their game to compete with it. It united old school and new school, underground and mainstream, indie fans and rap fans. (Throughout the course of one cohesive album, good kid, m.A.A.d city worked in rising superstar Drake, ever-powerful producer/tastemaker Dr. Dre, underrated Compton vet MC Eiht, and a Beach House sample.) It remains stunning that Kendrick pulled this all off, but what’s even more impressive is how effortless it is to listen to. Sometimes the “best” albums are high-brow to the point of difficulty, but good kid, m.A.A.d city is one of those rare all-time classic albums that’s as musically innovative as it is culturally impactful as it is fun to listen to. good kid, m.A.A.d city wins this decade because it satisfies on every level. It defied almost every major musical trend and impacted almost all of them too. The only other rapper that could’ve taken this top spot would’ve been Kendrick himself with To Pimp A Butterfly, an album that’s as near-perfect as good kid, m.A.A.d city in an entirely different way. You can — and people will — spend a lifetime debating these two albums. For us right now, nothing captured the complete essence of the decade like good kid, m.A.A.d city did. [A.S.]