The time has finally come, the 2010s are over and another decade of music is left to be remembered. It will take time to fully process what the most important aspects of this decade truly were but for me, personally, this was an important one. This is the decade I truly learned to appreciate art and music from a critical perspective. This list also gave me the chance to look back on some truly special albums that I missed this decade, many of which sadly did not make this list, and really put into context how phenomenal the 2010s were for music. So out of the hundreds of albums I have heard from the last 10 year, here is what I personally think is worthy of praise and is what I will personally return back to the most. There are some pretty notable exclusions here, and I am aware that certain records by major artists have had strong influences, but influence alone is not enough justification for me. So with all that being said, I hope you enjoy this look back at the last decade of music.
100) Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (2016)
Believe it or not, just a few years ago we had no idea Childish Gambino could sing. For as much fun as I had with Because the Internet, this was the album that transitioned Donald Glover from being a rapper to a truly respected artist. The production on this record is immaculate, diving deep into traditional R&B from decades ago and bringing those sounds to the 21st century. Also, any album with a song like “Redbone” on it is certainly worthy of any and all praise. I will never forget my first time listening to this album, coming to the realization that Glover was so much more than we had ever thought and was a one-of-a-kind talent unlike almost any of his contemporaries.
99) Joey Bada$$ – ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ (2017)
In terms of political hip hop records this decade, none grew on me more than this one did. I had it placed modestly high on my 2017 list, but it certainly has only gotten better in the years since its initial release. Joey’s lyrics are potent and highlight the problems in the politics as well as the personal struggles within the African American community. These messages are made with some of the catchiest production and hooks that are nearly impossible for me to forget about. Easily my favorite project from Joey and will likely be one of the biggest highlights in his career.
98) The Weeknd – Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)
I will admit, this one is probably just for me, but this is my list and I love this album. Even if it is nihilistic as hell, the way The Weeknd combines the darkness that drew attention to his music and combined it with extreme pop elements is something that rarely works for me but this one certainly does. All the singles from “The Hills” to “Can’t Feel My Face” and “In the Night” combine his Michael Jackson-esque vocals with booming production and some of the catchiest melodies you will hear about loveless sex and drugs. Sorry to everyone who doesn’t like this, but bombast and hedonism work well together for me.
97) Flying Lotus – You’re Dead! (2014)
This was definitely the most expansive record to be released by Flying Lotus at the time of its release and it also was rewarded for many of the risks it took. Outside of excellent features from artists like Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg and Thundercat, the production here is much different than on his previous records. FlyLo takes things in a much more vibrant direction, mixing electronic music with elements of jazz and hip hop to create a diverse sonic palette that flows through these 19 tracks. The album never gets old or feels tired, constantly changing sounds and challenging you, like a great jazz record should, while also getting experimental in a way only electronic music can.
96) Swans – The Glowing Man (2016)
This album was put in a difficult situation before it was even released. Prior to this, Swans had put out two of their biggest albums in both scale and critical acclaim. This was the final chapter in a trilogy of albums created by this iteration of Swans. That being said, The Glowing Man is the most distinct album in this trio to me. Whereas the other two albums were noted for their massive scopes and large dynamic sounds, I always found this record to be a little more abstract than the others. Yes, it is still nearly two hours long and contains many of the key features of a great Swans record, but it always felt paced at a steadier, more calming pace. At least in comparison. If the three key albums Swans released this decade were part of a story, this would be the conclusive third act that takes what was set before it and wraps it up in a clean, satisfying way before going out with a bang.
95) Beach House – Bloom (2012)
After breaking through in a huge way with Teen Dream, an album that left a big impression on me, Beach House came through with another incredibly produced dream pop album that is undeniably a staple of the genre for the 2010s. The hooks and melodies on this album are wonderful from front to back and while there might not be as many individual songs that stick out, the consistency of this record is still phenomenal. The chemistry between Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally carries over in a big way here as the production and vocals blend flawlessly to set a vibe that is both reminiscent of their best work and also unique in their discography.
94) M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming (2011)
First things first, “Midnight City” is enough justification to put this among the best albums of the 2010s. Seriously, that is one of the greatest songs of the entire decade and deserves to be admired as such. But saying that one song is the only great thing about Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming would do a massive disservice to this impressively ambitious synth-pop opus. Creating a double album is always tricky, but the way M83 is able to push their sound in new directions while still keeping things light and bouncy throughout is a testament to how naturally this genre comes to them.
93) Kids See Ghosts – Kids See Ghosts (2018)
In a decade where Kanye’s music has been unique, to say the least, and his public persona had reached its peak as a MAGA douche, this record needed to be exceptionally good for people to really appreciate it. Despite its short length, Kanye and Kid Cudi put out some of the best content in either of their careers. The wild production mixed with Kanye and Cudi going back and forth on their experiences with mental illness is what makes this short album so special. It feels big in scope while staying small and vulnerable in its content. It was a jump start that both these artists needed in their careers.
92) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away (2013)
There were two much bigger albums that followed Push the Sky Away this decade but it I think it is important to remember just how great this album is. The writing on here might be more cryptic than I am used to with Nick Cave but that has only given me more reason to go back and revisit this. Despite being the group’s fifteenth release, they still manage to find subtle ways to challenge their fans and craft a record that is as memorable as each other album they have made. Out of all the albums Nick Cave would put out in the 2010s, this is the most subtle but fans who are willing to put in the work will find more than enough emotionally satisfying material on here.
91) Perfume Genius – No Shape (2017)
If you want to hear some songs that have been overused in arthouse film trailers, look no further than this. To be fair, the reason for this is because this is one of the best sounding albums of the past few years and my personal favorite album from Perfume Genius. Mike Hadreas’ voice is soft but with the varied, dynamic production he is given it is amplified to have more weight than it has ever had before. The songwriting is also just as romantic as the production accompanying it. Song after song we hear Hadreas’ devotion for his partner fully realized making this his grandest statement to date that will remain one of his most essential records.
90) Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (2010)
There is no denying that Gorillaz found many ways to experiment with their projects this decade, but none of those projects turned out as great as Plastic Beach. This is likely the most expansive album in the group’s discography, tying in some unique production elements, ranging from orchestral to hip hop, and a wide variety of features to create a really fun listening experience that is still undeniably Gorillaz. The concept of this record also allows Damon Albarn’s writing to really shine. Environmentalist albums come around fairly often, but few are delivered with the unique aesthetic that only Gorillaz can bring.
89) Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club (2018)
It truly is a shame that I have not seen this album take off much in the year since I first heard it. This rap group’s style is the kind of thing that should have attracted more critics but it caught my attention and I absolutely loved it. It is one of the best combinations of jazz and hip hop, giving you a perfect taste of both genres. The production is extremely clean for a smaller indie release, with the jazz sounding robust and complimentary to Tom Scott’s lyrics about nostalgia and his hometown. It is a quiet and beautiful record and one that is absolutely worth the time to sit down with. This is one that I always put on when it’s raining out and I feel like thinking about my hometown.
88) Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (2011)
This is without a doubt the best thing that Fleet Foxes has ever done and a definitive piece of folk music this decade. The album took years for Robin Pecknold and company to put together and the painstaking detail they put into this album’s sound pays off in a big way. While my personal attachment to this album is not as strong as other albums on this list, the way it is beautifully constructed mixed with poetic lyrics is more than enough justification for it to be included on here. When it comes to complex folk music with genuine heart behind it, it is hard to do much better than this.
87) The Black Keys – Brothers (2010)
In my opinion, this is the best album The Black Keys would go on to make this decade and their best album since Rubber Factory. The band’s typical blues rock sound is sharper than ever as the songs perfectly blend the rougher, fuzzed out aesthetic of their early work with the catchy hooks that would go on and make them one of the biggest rock groups of the decade. And for as great as “Tighten Up” is as a single, the deep cuts on here are also some of the best work the Black Keys have ever done. Songs like “I’m Not the One” and “Never Gonna Give You Up” have grown to be just as iconic to me.
86) Mac Miller – Watching Movies with the Sound Off (2013)
This was a defining moment in Mac Miller’s tragically short career. There are fun aspects to his earlier projects but it was not until Watching Movies that Miller revealed how talented of an artist that he was. While still sticking with some of the frat energy that energized his first mixtapes, here Miller also shows glimpses of his introspective side that would define his later albums. The beats on here are the best Miller had ever gotten to rap over, truly going in wild and experimental directions that nobody expected Miller to be able to handle as well as he did. Say what you will about Mac Miller’s music, this will forever be a classic record from him.
85) Ghost – Meliora (2015)
Ghost has managed to take their sound in a new, fresh direction with each of their releases, but it was Meliora that really cemented that they were one of the best metal bands of the decade. Thematically, this is one of the darkest albums the band has made, with many tracks focusing on the absence of God in our world. And of course how can you not mention to ode to Satan that is “He Is,” which is one of the best metal songs of the decade. While they are not afraid to wear some of their classic influences on their sleeves, the mix of heavy metal and progressive rock on here is still dynamic and refreshing and shows Ghost at their most electrifying.
84) Denzel Curry – Ta13oo (2018)
Denzel Curry had always had the talent to be considered among the best of his generation but it was not until Ta13oo that he truly seemed to combine his lyricism and technical abilities with some equally powerful production to create something that was darker than anyone was expecting. This album’s loose concept revolves around each chapter of this album tackling darker and darker subject matters with equally menacing production. The way Curry’s sound has evolved to create some of the best bangers we have gotten this decade is certainly reason enough to check him and this album out.
83) Chris Stapleton – Traveller (2015)
This album is one of those great underdog stories that you love to see in the music industry. When initially released, Traveller had a modest debut before quickly vanishing out of the conversation. Then following a great CMAs duet with Justin Timberlake and a sweep of several key categories, the album skyrocketed into one of the most successful country albums of the decade. And it absolutely deserves every bit of that success. Traveller is an excellent, somber Southern rock album with introspective and personal lyrics, showing why Stapleton has had such a long songwriting career. For a debut album, these songs feel like they come from someone who has been performing for decades.
82) Grimes – Visions (2012)
For me, this was the point in Grimes’ career where her music started to become more accessible. As much as I appreciate her first projects, this is the one where it is clear that Grimes was going to be able to produce incredible electronic art pop in the 2010s. Look no further than “Oblivion,” a song that would go on to be a defining moment for Grimes thanks to its smooth production that is simple enough for easy listening while still feeling unique. That can be said for most of this album which takes a focused approach to crafting experimental synth-pop that certainly helped me get further into the genre. This album will always be a crucial stepping stone in Grimes’ career and a fantastic record on its own for its contributions towards experimental pop music this decade.
81) Little Simz – Grey Area (2019)
Despite being her third album, Grey Area feels like Little Simz’ true breakthrough. Everything about this album is excellent from the lyrics, Simz’ flow and the diverse variety of beats. In just 35 minutes, Simz shows that she is one of most capable female emcees out right now, showing versatility and energy that you only get from someone who is hungry for greatness. The subject matter is also uniquely personal, making this stand out as one of the most vulnerable hip hop releases of the last few years. It is hard not to quickly become a fan of Simz after listening to this record and for those who have not taken the time, this is the best place to jump into her music.
80) The Weeknd – House of Balloons (2011)
This is not just the best project The Weeknd has put out but easily his most influential, really showing where R&B was going to be heading in the 2010s. The smoky production combining elements of indie rock and hip hop works so well against The Weeknd’s smooth delivery that let us all know he was going to be one of the biggest singers of the decade. There is also no denying how iconic tracks like “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” and “Wicked Games” have become. While The Weeknd’s sound has certainly evolved since here, his origins were so refreshing and the tracks on this mixtape are easily some of the best he will ever come out with.
79) Adele – 21 (2011)
There is absolutely no conversation about music in the 2010s without talking about Adele, arguably the biggest artist of the decade. Of the two albums she released in the 2010s, I always preferred 21 for the magnitude of the ballads that it held. Obviously singles like “Rolling in the Deep” and “Set Fire to the Rain” are some of the most biggest songs of the decade, but the scale of tracks like “I’ll Be Waiting” and “One and Only” on the back half proved that Adele was truly one of the most magnetic vocalists in modern music. 21 takes heartbreak and makes it feel larger than life as producers Rick Rubin and Paul Epworth provide gorgeous production from front to start. Truly an iconic album that history will remember for decades to come.
78) Algiers – The Underside of Power (2017)
For those unfamiliar with Algiers, they are a post-punk industrial rock group with gospel vocals. It is something that sounds messy as hell and yet they came out with two fantastic albums this decade, with this being my personal favorite. This is a political album and it is very aggressive about that fact, taking the severe injustices of racial discrimination, corruption, police brutality and more and amplifying them to sound horrifically apocalyptic. The combination of heavy production and Franklin James Fisher’s powerful voice makes this album sound even bigger. This is an example of an album that needs to be played as loud as possible and enjoyed in the same visceral way it was created.
77) St. Vincent – St. Vincent (2014)
This album will always have a special place to me in St. Vincent’s discography as being the one that got me into her music. It was definitely a great place to jump in, as thiscontains some of most unique songs in St. Vincent’s discography. The glitchy production is incredibly fun behind St. Vincent’s typically beautiful vocals. Even on slower ballad on here, the beats are not afraid to play around to create a memorable atmosphere. These elements all come together to make this one of the easiest listens in St. Vincent’s entire discography.
76) Death Grips – Year of the Snitch (2018)
No two Death Grips albums are alike and Year of the Snitch is certainly no exception. This is a heavy album, as most Death Grips releases are, but despite the crushing instrumentation and overtly aggressive delivery from MC Ride, there is something about Year of the Snitch that has always drawn me in. The grooves are stronger here than they had been on several previous releases, the songs stuck with me longer and the thematic elements show the group at their most self-aware. Not only does this have some of the group’s best tracks but it also showed a new side of the group that I absolutely loved.
75) The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships (2018)
After releasing an incredibly ambitious second album, The 1975 decided to tighten their sound and ideas into something that deserved to blow up just a bit more. This album sees Healy diving into subjects of modern technology, politics and sobriety all with flashy production and the band’s strongest written material yet. Songs like “Love It If We Made It” truly do an excellent job of capturing the emotions of the millennial generation during this decade and is better than most songs that have attempted to do the same. Then you have “Give Yourself a Try” and “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not with You),” two are powerful singles that are among the group’s best. This is the album that truly revealed The 1975 to be a band that was going to stick around longer than many of their indie pop contemporaries.
74) Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (2019)
Weyes Blood discography has always been a solid one, she certainly fit into the mold of the indie singer-songwriter well, but it was not until this record where her talent was on full display. There are many reasons for this, the most obvious being the production which is easily the most ambitious that Weyes Blood has ever used. The backing vocals that accompany Natalie Mering add a new level of grandeur, as does the sprawling instrumentation. This was easily one of the most beautiful sounding records of my last list and is very much worthy of a spot on this list as well.
73) Alex Cameron – Forced Witness (2017)
There will be a theme of self-deprecating music on this list. If you are able to make songs that make me both laugh and sympathize with you, your songwriting is doing something very right. Cameron’s style is best described as desperate machismo with a Springsteen-inspired twist. It is as hilarious as it is telling of the character Cameron is playing and on top of that the production is incredibly infectious. Whether it is the break-up duet “Stranger’s Kiss” or the songs about finding online love, I have found myself singing along to these tracks more times than I would be comfortable admitting.
72) James Blake – James Blake (2011)
Of all the electronic artists to emerge in the 2010s, James Blake is easily one of the most refreshing thanks to emotional core that exists beneath all of his music. Never has that emotion been stronger than on his self-titled debut album that takes a more relaxed approach to the electronic genre. At its core, this is a singer-songwriter project from James Blake featuring some of the most touching electronic songs to come out this decade, mixed with interesting and diverse production elements that gives this a strong aesthetic. This is a perfect introduction to an artist who would go on to inspire way more music this decade than he will be given credit for.
71) Pusha T – Daytona (2018)
The shortest album on this list, Daytona was better than anyone had imagined it could have been when it came out in the summer of 2018, kicking off Kanye’s Wyoming series. The production was stellar, Push’s lyrics were sharp and his flow was undeniably great. It is the sound of an artist using the pressure of a short album to his advantage and making sure every moment of his album is as good as it can be. Few bars are wasted and the production never stops matching the quality of Push’s content. To quote the standout line on “Come Back Baby,” “all this shit came from pressure.”
70) Big K.R.I.T. – 4 Eva Is a Mighty Long Time (2017)
Truly one of the best southern hip-hop records to come out this decade and will likely be seen as Big K.R.I.T.’s magnum opus. 4 Eva Is a Might Long Time splits its 22 tracks into two disks, each with distinct personality and sounds and both absolutely fantastic. Bangers like “Big Bank” and “Subenstein” on the first half have the perfect amount energy and lyrical skill from K.R.I.T while songs like “Keep the devil Off” and “Miss Georgia Fornia” are much more introspective moments on the second half. Beautiful production and songwriting from front to back makes this ambitious 90 minute project fly by with each excellent turn it takes.
69) Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork (2013)
The lead up to …Like Clockwork is a classic story that you love to see. After a fairly long hiatus, a couple of disappointing releases and the departure of a crucial member, the band had to come through with something special. That is exactly what ended up happening as …Like Clockwork ended up being the band’s best record since 2002’s Songs for the Deaf. Each of the songs on here go hard, combining the band’s darker sound and tight production to create some incredibly memorable tracks with hypnotic grooves and melodies. It was not just a jump start for the band but the sound of them moving their sound forward into new and exciting territory and utilizing the talents of legends like Dave Grohl, Elton John and Trent Reznor to create one of their best ever albums.
68) St. Vincent – MASSEDUCTION (2017)
When an artist needs to take their sound to a wider audience, there is almost nobody better to go to than Jack Antonoff. Both he and Annie Clark have great production instincts and their skills blend excellently here. While these songs certainly have a cleaner edge than her previous work, St. Vincent’s experimental art rock sound is still very much preserved and, if anything, expanded upon. While I had known before this album that St. Vincent was a great artist, Masseduction proved that she was also a very capable pop star in her own right.
67) Lorde – Pure Heroine (2013)
Lorde’s impact on popular music this decade is undeniable and as someone who was 16 when Pure Heroine came out, you already know I love it. Despite an army of copycat alternative singer-songwriters coming out after this, there was no artist who could ever touch what Lorde did on her debut. She was able to capture real teenage emotion in such an authentic way and even if she was young when she wrote these songs, her experiences sound lived in. Also, “Royals” is a decade defining song that will go down as one of the best pieces of popular music to come out during this time period. No question this deserves a spot here.
66) Beck – Morning Phase (2014)
People have become increasingly split on this album, which I understand, but for me this is one of Beck’s best albums. Morning Phase acts as a sister album to his incredible 2002 breakup album Sea Change, except instead of living in the pain, Morning Phase focuses on many of the emotions that come after it. It truly brought me back to my initial listens to Sea Change and built on that emotion with magnificent production that is incredibly organic with Beck’s soft vocal delivery. Despite its slow pace, the songwriting and production have kept me coming back to this album and I am happy that this finally won Beck a much deserved Grammy for Album of the Year. Even if I am the only one who thinks it deserved that win.
65) Destroyer – Kaputt (2011)
Dan Bejar’s discography has always remained solid, but for me he reached his peak with Kaputt. There is just so much to admire about this album from the sound of it alone. The smooth, jazzy production is reminiscent of 80s soft rock while still feeling absolutely unique for modern audiences. Bejar’s writing has arguably never been stronger than it is here, as he uses this project to make some strong statements on society while also getting painfully honest on other songs. It is the kind of singer-songwriter effort that feels immediately timeless and is undoubtedly worth every second of time it takes the fully dive into it.
64) Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION (2015)
The idea of Carly Rae Jepsen releasing a classic album in 2015 seemed near impossible. “Call Me Maybe” might have been a massive single but I, like many others, assumed Jepsen was destined to be a one-hit wonder. Fortunately this was not the case as EMOTION would come around and completely change the course of her career. One song into this album and it became clear that Jepsen was making the kind of 80s-inspired pop music that so many of her contemporaries had been struggling to pull off. Truly, some of the best pop songs of the entire decade live on this album from “Boy Problems” to “Making the Most of the Night” and of course “Run Away With Me,” my personal pick for pop song of the 2010s. If you are still sleeping on Jepsen’s post-“Call Me Maybe” career, put this on and change that fast.
63) Beach House – Teen Dream (2010)
Teen Dream was my first experience listening to Beach House and really one of my first experiences with dream pop as a whole. It was a hell of an introduction to both the duo and the genre as a whole and remains my favorite dream pop album of the decade. It is a genre that is easy for me to lose interest in, with some acts making music that gets a little too slow and repetitive for my liking, but Beach House has always found a way to make their music stick out with a level of emotional weight I always appreciate. Victoria Legrand has never sounded better than she does here, completely selling each track and the atmosphere that is created around her is so lush and immersive it is easy to get lost listening to this. It is everything you love to hear from the genre and it was the perfect way for me to get introduced to these guys.
62) Danny Brown – XXX (2011)
At the ripe age of 30, Danny Brown officially broke through with an album that was unlike anything coming out at the time. Brown’s energy is insane as he raps about sex and drugs in completely candid ways, walking a line between humor and horror. It is hard to know if he wants you to laugh or be concerned but either way he gets a strong reaction out of you. XXX’s long list of producers keeps the project fresh from track to track as Brown raps on a variety of unique beats that showcase his talent and highlight why he would go on to have an incredible future. Rap this raw is hard to find and having it come out so great only adds to why this album has more than earned its spot among the best hip hop projects of the decade.
61) Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014)
One of country’s greatest discoveries this decade would have to be Sturgill Simpson. While this is the only record of his on this list, there are a few just outside of it. What makes Metamodern Sounds stand out so much is how well Simpson translates the sounds of classic outlaw and psychedelic country to a modern audience. It feels nostalgic but rarely tries to replicate its influences. The heart that lies in the center of this record is also undeniably a reason to love this. Between Dave Cobb’s assistance with the production and Sturgill’s powerful voice, this album helped to establish both of these men as the best in their craft in the 2010s.
60) Robyn – Body Talk (2010)
If there is anything wrong with this album, it is the fact that there are just too many great dance-pop bangers. This album really does come close to batting a perfect score when it comes to how many of these songs actually succeed at being infection pop jams. This is a testament to how great of a performer Robyn is and how great of an ear she has for production. If you think that “Dancing On My Own” is great, which isn’t hard as it is one of the best pop songs of the decade, then there is no reason why you wouldn’t love the rest of this album. If you want an hour straight of fun bops that will make you want to dance from beginning to end, then look no further than what will surely go down as Robyn’s opus.
59) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen (2019)
Given the subject matter alone, this is one of the more difficult listens on this list. This is Nick Cave’s first album to be fully written and recorded following the death of his teenage son. The subject matter is tragic and the way Cave handles the subject is absolutely haunting. Cave’s deep delivery is dynamic and emotionally rich as he sings about his grieving process both directly and indirectly. The ambient production that accompanies Cave is just as haunting, giving this album a lush and textured backdrop that compliments the vocal delivery wonderfully. Despite being one of the most painful listens on this list, it is also one of the most cathartic and a perfect follow up to Cave’s previous album, Skeleton Tree.
58) Jamie xx – In Colour (2015)
Even as someone who is not the biggest fan of The xx, it was hard for me to deny that In Colour really is something special. Jamie xx takes the best elements of his production with his band and takes risks with them. He mixes genres from house, tropical, and hip-hop to create some of the most robust sounding electronica of the decade. On the tracks without guest vocals, the production is so dynamic you cannot help but feel its presence driving the track. Jamie xx is also able to get the absolute best out of his guests. His The xx bandmates Oliver Sim and Romy sound better than ever against this production on songs like “Stranger In a Room” and “Loud Places” and there is no denying that “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)” is one of the best bangers of the decade and will likely forever be my favorite Young Thug song.
57) Swans – The Seer (2012)
At a time when a band like Swans had seemed to have their best days behind them, The Seer was released to prove that Michael Gira had plenty of ambition left. On this epic, Swans’ sound is darker than on any other of their other albums this decade. The scope of this project is massive with loud, droning production carrying you through much of the two hour length. It is the kind of album that will certainly create an immersive atmosphere and hold you there for as long as it can. Gira’s vocals are also incredible, ranging from soft chants to loud explosive crescendos. As someone who’s first love has always been film, getting to see Swans transition to the kind of grand cinematic music of great film compositions is everything I could have asked for from this band.
56) Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free (2015)
At this point in his career, Jason Isbell had proven he was one of the best songwriter’s in country music and on Something More Than Free he only continued to show this. While staying in a similar lane to his previous album, Southeastern, I feel that this album has a more nostalgic feeling to it. This is the album Isbell spends the most time reflecting on his roots and upbringing in a small southern town and everything he learned from those experiences. Needless to say that because it is Isbell penning these songs they each come out with a perfect amount of authenticity and emotion. This album will always hold a special place to me as the one that got me into Jason Isbell and his flawless discography and is a great entry point for anyone else hoping to get into his music.
55) Flying Lotus – Cosmogramma (2010)
There are times I need to step back and admit that I am not a trained musician and am not the best at picking up on things that a trained ear might be able to. That being said, it hard for me to put into technical terms why Cosmogramma connects with me so much, but I think that is part of the beauty with this album. This was recorded while producer Steven Ellison’s mother was dying which ended up being a major inspiration for the final product. Ellison even sampled the respirators in his mother’s hospital room to put into the musical landscape of this record. It is a tragic backdrop to a beautiful album and while the electronic production is distorted and glitchy, it still carries a very human weight to it.
54) Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer (2018)
Here it is, the first Father John Misty album on this list, yes there will be more, and it is a difficult one the start with because it certainly sounds the least like Father John Misty. Not in terms of the production, which sounds immaculate for something recorded in a hotel room, but there is a degree of wit that is removed from this album. Tillman clearly recorded this album in the aftermath of something traumatic and does not shy away from his personal demons that were eating at him on this. While these 10 tracks go by quick, there is an incredible amount to dissect here and any fan of this man’s work can tell you that this fits comfortably in his stellar discography.
53) PJ Harvey – Let England Shake (2011)
This album came out almost a full decade ago, from an artist who does not live in my country, and yet when I listen to it the political commentary still bites as strong as I imagine it did in 2011. Harvey’s magnetic vocals depict the horrors that war have on a country and the people within it. It is a deeply tragic album, yet there is still so much to admire, both lyrically and compositionally. It was a clear burst of inspiration from Harvey and one that produced an album unlike anything she has ever made. It is my personal favorite in her discography and deserves to be seen as a staple in her long and impressive career.
52) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (2016)
If there was an album that solidified that Danny Brown was going to continue to be one of the most unique voices in hip hop for the decade, it was this one. While XXX is a classic in many ways, this album showed just how experimental Brown could really be with his raps. If there was any doubt about how talented this man is, just listen to the kinds of beats he chose to rap over here. On top of incredible flows, Brown has never sounded more like a coked-out clone of Andre 3000 in his career and this album truly captures the headspace of someone on a drug-fueled journey downwards. This is truly one of the wildest rides a rapper took me on this decade and I don’t think anyone but Danny Brown could have delivered a project like this.
51) Brand New – Science Fiction (2017)
Despite only being a passive fan of this band at the time of this release, this album floored me the more I would listen to it. After an eight year cap between albums, the band came back for one last album and it is easily one of their best. The album plays as the band going through their pain and letting out any and all emotion they have left for one last powerful record. Everything that made their classic albums of the 2000s great is here and on full display. The production sounds bigger and heavier, moving from track to track with energy coming in and out of focus as Jesse Lacey’s vocals range in intensity. This is a diverse and emotionally satisfying conclusion to the band that will leave fans more than happy that this is their farewell. For me, this is the group’s second best album behind The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me and is a perfect send-off for the group.
50) Everything Everything – Get to Heaven (2015)
If you are a fan of art rock in any way, there is no reason you should not be listening to Everything Everything, one of this decade’s most interesting British rock groups. While their whole discography is solid to great, Get to Heaven is by far their best work. The album tackles many of the fears and anxieties of the mid 2010s, tackling issues ranging from terrorism to the media. All of this is presented with infectious, fun and flashy production that makes each of these songs pop in sound as well as writing. From the intensity of tracks like “To the Blade” and “Fortune 500” to the catchiness of “Distant Past” and “Get to Heaven,” this album will easily last as Everything Everything’s greatest work to me.
49) St. Vincent – Strange Mercy (2011)
On the surface, Strange Mercy is the most simplistic record that St. Vincent released in the 2010s, but that does not prevent it from also being her best work. Besides proving her versatility as an artist, this is an album all about showing off how talented St. Vincent is as a musician. The instrumentation on here is dynamic, effortlessly going from beautiful to powerful and giving an incredible amount of weight to Annie Clark’s commanding voice. It is a perfect example of art pop that does just as much to be experimental as it does to draw you in. It is defining evidence of St. Vincent’s greatness and my personal favorite album in her discography.
48) Grimes – Art Angels (2015)
If you follow Grimes’ discography up to this point, an album like Art Angels only makes sense. After building a name for herself for weird, experimental electronic pop music, Grimes decided to go deeper into her pop instincts to create one of the wilder pop albums of the last decade. Songs like “Flesh without Blood” and “Artangels” take the melodies and sounds of danceable pop and adds extra layers of strangeness to make this fit perfectly with Grimes’ previous work. I will also still hold “Kill V. Maim” to be one of the most infectious and energetic pop jams of the decade. If Visions did not prove to everyone that Grimes was one of this decade’s most crucial art pop figures, Art Angels certainly more than showed this to be the case.
47) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer (2018)
This is one of the smoothest pop albums of the decade, with each track really flowing into the next wonderfully to make this a 50 minute sexually and politically charged ride. While Monáe has always sounded great, on Dirty Computer she really sounds more confident than ever before, boldly expressing her mind on every track in a way that is forward yet not cheap. The futuristic aesthetic of this album also helps it build personality and blends each track from the hip hop of “Django Jane” to the Prince-inspired “Make Me Feel” and everything in between. This is a mesmerizing record that is easy to get lost in but if you really dive into it, the layers of smart writing and excellent production are impossible to ignore.
46) Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell! (2019)
This whole decade was continuously seeing Lana Del Rey get closer and closer to releasing a great album. The elements were always there but never perfectly executed. Finally, she perfected her sound and created the most dynamic and heartbreaking album of her discography. Her songwriting is improved as she reflects on herself and her relationships, showcasing a brutally vulnerable side of herself that is deeply compelling. Jack Antonoff’s production is among his best, pairing Lana’s softer voice with gorgeous orchestration that drives this album’s emotional weight even further. All around, this is undeniably Lana’s crowning achievement thus far and is the moment I feel she finally came into her own with the type of music she has wanted to make after all these years.
45) Idles – Brutalism (2017)
This record is important enough for the fact that it introduced Idles to a broader audience than ever before. Despite being the group’s first album there is no denying that Brutalism gave everyone a taste of what Idles were all about and why so many would go on to love them. Aesthetically, this album feels like a traditional punk record but the songwriting reveals something more sensitive. Behind the heavy production and manic vocal performances comes a feeling of vulnerability from lead singer Joe Talbot. Talbot’s mother passed away during production on this album and while much of the album is not directly about her, the personal connection that Talbot has is undeniable. This is essential punk in the 2010s from a band who will continue to be making essential punk well into the 2020s.
44) Tame Impala – Currents (2015)
After the massive critical success of Lonerism, Tame Impala made the decision to take their acclaimed psychedelic sound and work it into more accessible songs. This is not to say Currents is Tame Impala selling out, but instead embracing the pop influences they have always played around with. At its core, Currents is a break up album with synthesizers leading us through Kevin Parker’s mental process of realizing the relationship is unhealthy and learning to separate and move on. Some of the themes are a little broad but at its heart, this album is a wonderful exercise of how to move past a failed relationship and ends on a fairly positive note. And like on their previous effort, the singles from this record are absolutely iconic. “The Less I Know the Better” has one of the most infectious grooves of any Tame Impala song while “Let it Happen” and “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” are among the group’s best tracks period.
43) Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound (2017)
After two solo albums, Jason Isbell decided to regroup with his band The 400 Unit and create an album that fits perfectly with the other two albums he released this decade. The production on The Nashville Sound is what makes this album stand out the most, with this featuring the strongest southern rock influences of anything Isbell has done in the 2010s. Songs like “Cumberland Gap” and “Hope the High Road” rock better than most actual recent rock songs while “Anxiety” dives into some metal influences in its instrumentation. Isbell’s songwriting also continues to be powerful, diving deeper into political and social issues while also making sure each song has its heart intact. “If We Were Vampires” is also arguable one of the most powerful love songs released all decade.
42) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (2016)
It is easy for young indie rock groups to feel small, especially with the kind of small budget that Car Seat Headrest’s music is used to. That being said, this album feels bigger than anything the band has ever done in their prolific career. Each song is focused on the various feelings of growing up and discovering yourself among drugs, alcohol and depression. Between the hard hitting rock songs and the extended ballads, each track has a place here and work together to paint Will Toledo as a sympathetic and relatable narrator. Speaking of Toledo, he is one of the best writers of his generation and Teens of Denial only proves how talented of an artist he truly is.
41) A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service (2016)
I do not think anybody was expecting this album to be as great as it was. Obviously releasing an album after the death of Phife Dawg was going to be difficult and it would be even harder to come back with something that felt worthy of the group’s iconic discography. Fortunately, this album blew me, and everyone else, away with how well it followed in the steps of the group’s classic records. It feels like a classic 90s hip-hop record with great storytelling and a necessary emotional grip on the subjects at hand. Even with the group throwing the production back a bit, this is certainly a passing of the torch in many ways to the next generation of hip hop as well as a beautiful tribute to the hip hop of the past and especially to Phife Dawg.
40) Death Grips – Exmilitary (2011)
This album will always remain important as the album that exposed the underground to the raw force that is Death Grips. Where this album has always stood out for me compared to what the trio would release later would be the sheer rawness of these tracks. These tracks have the same relentless production, wild sampling and intimidating vocal performances that their other albums have, but Exmilitary has always felt like the album that let these elements breathe the most and I have always appreciated that about it. Outside of being a great collection of some of Death Grips’ most iconic tracks, this album feels like a warning signal for what would be soon to come from one of the best groups this decade.
39) Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want (2018)
This is an album that took me awhile to truly get into. This is a brand of noise rock that is unlike anything I have really heard. The album flows from one track into another with an increasing swell of dread and horror without ever feeling corny or campy like most horror-inspired music. Instead, Daughters builds songs with layered production that creates a sense of unease and anxiety that explodes at the end of the record. This has been a perfect late night travel album for me over the last year and one that I continually go back to, despite it being one of the most challenging albums on this entire list. Certainly not for everyone, but it has definitely left a massive impact on me. Side note, my friend and I even went out to the recording studio where this was recorded just because it was near where I was living at the time. I can’t say that about any other album on here.
38) Janelle Monáe – The ArchAndroid (2010)
This is easily one of the most ambitious, fully realized debut albums of the entire decade. Janelle Monáe has always been known to push the boundaries of genre, flawlessly going from one to another in a cohesive way and never has this been clearer than on The ArchAndroid. Even at a towering 70 minutes, this album never feels like it is repeating ideas as Monáe plays with the sound of soul, funk, hip hop and more to create songs that play homage to the past while embracing the best of contemporary production. Also, the way each song transitions into each other keeps the energy of this project consistently moving as Monáe demonstrates her powerful vocal presence and charisma. This is a star making album and the gold standard for debuts this decade.
37) The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream (2014)
I have very vivid memories of getting into this album when it was first released in 2014 to massive critical acclaim. I had been spending much of the year exploring classic American rock acts like Springsteen and Bob Dylan so needless to say this album struck me pretty hard. On Lost in the Dream, The War on Drugs creates what sounds like the natural successor of those artists, taking their 80s rock sound and reworking it to work with contemporary indie rock. The end result is magnetic as these long, powerful songs that play with your mood in such incredible ways. Despite it’s slow pace, the album subtly plays with its sound so often you stay engaged to the warm, inviting mood of it. This is one of the 2010s defining winter albums for me and one I will go to when I need some comforting.
36) Dave Cobb & Various Artists – Southern Family (2016)
For those who do not follow indie country music, Dave Cobb has his hand in the majority of the country music you’ll find on this list. On this project, Cobb produces tracks from multiple artists he has worked with along his career and compiles a record focused on the importance of family. As a native of Massachusetts, an album like this should not appeal to me but each of these artists bring such a strong level of emotion with their song that it is impossible not to empathize. Whether it be someone I know and love like Jason Isbell or Chris Stapleton, a mainstream country act like Miranda Lambert or Zac Brown or even a complete unknown, each song on here is dynamic and has a place here. Like all family reunions, this is a bunch of distinct personalities coming together, being tied together by the love they all share.
35) Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata (2014)
I will be the first to admit I didn’t get into Freddie Gibbs until a couple years after this album initially came out. But, like many, this was my introduction and will remain his best work to me. Madlib was already one of the most acclaimed hip hop producers so to hear his oddball beats behind Gibbs delivering his best bars to date was something special. It felt like two artists pushing each other in the best ways rather than a producer making solid beats for a great rapper. While this album features great features from artists like Danny Brown, Earl Sweatshirt and Raekwon, it is consistently Freddie who shines on these tracks. His lyrics are introspective, talking bluntly about his time on the streets, only being emphasized by Madlib’s production. Easily one of the best hip hop releases of the decade and an underrated classic.
34) The Mountain Goats – Goths (2017)
The Mountain Goats have been one of the most consistently great bands for the last 20 years or so. Each of their albums is distinct and special, but Goths is easily their standout record from the 2010s. For the first and only time the folk group completely removed guitars, forcing the production to go in some unique places to fill in the gaps. On top of this being one of the best sounding records in the group’s discography, John Darnielle’s songwriting is also sharper and more hard hitting than it has been since 2005’s The Sunset Tree. While there are several lyrical connection to goth music and culture, the album is ultimately about nostalgia, making the niche subject matter surprisingly accessible to just about any listener. Even as someone who’s knowledge of goth music is limited, I found myself connecting to this album more than most. These are some of The Mountain Goat’s best songs ever recorded, in every sense, and their ambitious efforts have more than paid off here.
33) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (2016)
When Run the Jewels 3 was released, Killer Mike and El-P had already proved themselves to not just be great solo artists but to be a naturally excellent pair with incredible flows and insane production. On their third outing together, the duo certainly explores new territories, specifically tackling politics more blatantly than ever before while also refining the tight bangers of their last two albums. When this album came out just weeks before Trump’s inauguration, it felt personal to me. I felt like a lot of the things I had been feeling were finally being voiced in one of the most entertaining ways possible. This album is truly a ride, flowing from one track to another at lightning fast speeds, and it is a ride all fans of hip hop should go on.
32) Various Artists – Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (2015)
Out of every album on this list, this was the most difficult one to place on this list. It is the only Broadway soundtrack to get this honor mainly because it is the only one I listened to enough to definitively leave a strong impact on me. Even without spending the money to see the show, I can say that this soundtrack alone sells the intense hype it has gotten. The way the orchestration typically used on Broadway is reworked to fit the hip hop and R&B songs throughout this show is incredible and the story is a fascinating one that makes the two and a half hour length going by quick. The political undertones, and overtones, that are found on here are also powerful, making this one of the most interesting projects I have heard all decade. This show has been discussed endlessly for the last five years but I have to agree that it is truly as great as everyone says it is.
31) Tyler, the Creator – Igor (2019)
I think everyone knew that Flower Boy was not going to be a one-off, but even I personally did not expect Tyler’s follow up to carry the torch so well. Yet again Tyler changes his sound completely, swapping opulence for lo-fi production that highlights the gorgeous arrangements excellently. The lyrics are also some of his most personal, going into his psyche as he copes with having to get over someone he loves and the pain that comes with that. It makes this one of the most unique approaches to a breakup album I have heard this decade and should be a standard that artists look at when approaching heartbreak. When it comes to hip hop, Tyler continues to prove he is one of the most unique voices out there and this album just solidified his status as an icon of the 2010s and at this rate the 2020s as well.
30) Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City (2013)
As someone who has never fallen in love with Vampire Weekend, this album still feels special to me. It came out when I was first getting into indie rock in a bigger way so singles like “Diane Young” and “Unbelievers” were huge on the alternative radio stations I listened to and helped form my music listening experiences for much of the decade. Many years later, these songs still hit hard for me and the album remains the most compelling record Vampire Weekend has made by far. It plays into many of the tropes that have defined pretentious indie and art rock but Vampire Weekend seems fully aware of this and continues to play into what they know best. It is very much an album perfect for Ivy League students and struggling New York City artists alike, but as someone who is neither I can still say this strikes deep with me and has become a favorite fall/winter album for me.
29) Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do (2012)
One of the biggest travesties of the decade is that we only got one Fiona Apple record. Luckily, the album we did get is one of the most commanding records in her entire discography. The instrumentation is sparse on here, putting the spotlight directly on Apple’s magnetic vocals. The way she sings on these songs is simply electrifying, putting a firm emphasis on each word, really driving out every bit of emotion you can get out of these songs. You almost get the impression you are listening to a live album with the amount of raw power that comes from this album. Even with a discography as strong as Fiona Apple’s, The Idler Wheel finds a way to feel fresh and stand out in a great way.
28) Jeff Rosenstock – WORRY. (2016)
I vividly remember the time period when WORRY. was first released. It was just a few weeks before America was about to vote Donald Trump into office and that was just the beginning of our anxieties. Like all great music, this album reflects that time period and the years that would soon follow it. This album isn’t so much political as it is taking a mirror to all the injustices around us and asking the question “how do we intend on living in this world?” Jeff Rosenstock attempts to answer these questions in a collection of his sharpest indie rock songs. His songwriting style is laced with humor while never shying away from the darkness of things like gentrification, police brutality and general inequality. This album has only grown on me since its release and with every passing year its commentary only feels stronger. A true progressive punk album.
27) Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012)
There is no denying the impact that this album had for indie music in the 2010s. On top of filling up many playlists, it’s psychedelic and synth heavy sound helped to inspire seemingly countless other indie bands. None have been able to top this project. Lonerism succeeds in the way it uses the ambient, chilled out vibes of its production and pairs that with lyrics about isolation to create an album that puts you directly in the headspace of Kevin Parker. While it might be easy to categorize the production of this album as the kind of “vibe” music that this group has been known for, repeat listens only prove how textured and hypnotic the production here is, from start to finish. Songs like “Elephant,” “Be Above It” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backward” are all iconic moments for psychedelic rock this decade and this album as a whole is easily the most definitive album to come out within the genre all decade.
26) D’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah (2014)
After nearly 15 years since his legendary album Voodoo, it seemed like D’Angelo would never release a new album, and if he did there would be no way for it to match the level of anticipation it had built up. That is where Black Messiah came along to prove to everyone that D’Angelo is one of the most important R&B artists of the century. Everything about this record was fresh from the wild production, D’Angelo’s raw delivery and the lyrical themes of political struggle. It sounds both like something new and a tribute to classic funk albums of the 1970s. Even as someone who thinks Voodoo is a masterpiece, this will likely go down as the D’Angelo project I connect with on a deeper level for its inventiveness and maturity in both content and presentation.
25) Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (2015)
Sufjan Stevens has always had a gift of telling stories in his music that know how to hit you in a vulnerable way. After making some of the most emotionally impactful music of the century, Carrie & Lowell came out as another gut punch, but a beautiful one. This is easily the most personal record of Stevens’ discography, being inspired by the death of his mother and stepfather. The relationship he describes with these people are nuanced and complicated, and Stevens does not shy away from the ugly parts of his childhood. It comes together to form a brutally honest look at someone’s grieving process and a uniquely vivid look into the mind of Sufjan Stevens. This album might make you cry, in fact it probably will, but they will be the most earned tears of any record on this list.
24) Jason Isbell – Southeastern (2013)
After going to rehab for drug and alcohol abuse, Jason Isbell returned in a big way with producer Dave Cobb to create an album that will go down as a high mark in both of their successful careers. The album is both reflective of Isbell’s troubled path and optimism about his future now that he is sober and getting ready to settle down. The songs on here all tell great stories, as all great singer-songwriter albums should. Despite handling his own feelings on songs like “Cover Me Up” and “Travelling Alone,” he also uses songs like “Yvette” to discuss a friend’s past of abuse or the powerful “Elephant” about his friend dying of cancer. All these moments really do add up to one of the strongest expressions empathy to be put out all decade and it is not hard to see why this album relaunched Isbell’s career to its greatest heights yet.
23) Beyonce – Lemonade (2016)
There is no denying Beyonce’s influence on music this decade. If the 2000s were her building her star, the 2010s were about cementing that star. While albums like 4 and Beyonce were clearly iconic, it was Lemonade that confirmed her status as a pop legend to me. It showed a more human and vulnerable side to Beyonce, diving deep into her emotions following Jay-Z’s infidelity and making song after song about feeling low and building yourself back up and towards forgiveness. The emotional journey spans genres from R&B and rap to country and rock, all handled better than the last. Easily the best album in her discography and a landmark for popular music.
22) LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (2010)
This was supposed to be LCD Soundsystem’s final album and while that did not actually happen, there is a clear feeling of finality on this record. James Murphy sounds like someone trying to make one more defining record before they retire. While not as immediately gratifying as their classic record Sound of Silver, this album is just as well produced and contains some of Murphy’s best tracks to date. The songs are longer and require more patience but the payoffs are always worth it and the emotional impact the album will have on you by the end is truly special. I also feel that his album continues to take the influencing sounds of 70s dance and electronic music and further expand on it to fit in modern times. If Sound of Silver was James Murphy proving himself as an incredible artist, This Is Happening was him solidifying himself as one of the best of the century.
21) Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)
One of the biggest tragedies of this decade is the fact we were only graced with a single proper Daft Punk studio album. Luckily, this album is such a great achievement for the group that it is able to keep Daft Punk as one of the decade’s biggest pioneering acts. Random Access Memories was ambitious in all the right ways, expanding the duo’s sound after their previous album Human After All, adding multiple layers of live instrumentation and orchestration on top of an already iconic electronic sound and also featuring many massively talented artists. The album plays as an homage to both the music that inspired the duo in the 70s and 80s while also playing into what works in modern pop music with songs like “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself to Dance.” There is a moment on the track “Giorgio by Moroder” where legendary producer Giorgio Moroder talks about how he wanted his first album to contain the sounds of the past, present and future. For the first time in their career, Daft Punk made an album that absolutely accomplishes the goal Giorgio had set for himself decades ago.
20) Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (2017)
I do not think any album truly gets into Father John Misty’s mind than this one. This is odd considering it is a rare example of him focusing outwardly on politics and society as a whole rather than his personal life but hearing Misty’s perception of the world is deeply telling to who he is. This album is a masterclass on political songwriting. The references are vague, not aimed at a specific person or party but instead commenting on the state of humanity. It is the kind of classic political album that will definitely feel just as relevant in a decade from now as it did when it first was released. “Pure Comedy” remains one of my favorite songs of the decade and every song that follows it deserves every second of your time. Large production, ambitious scope, long tracks, Pure Comedy is a challenging record and one that you will pick something new up with each time you listen.
19) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (2016)
This is one of the heaviest albums to come out this decade. Not in sound but in spirit, as Skeleton Tree was recorded and partially written amidst the unexpected death of Nick Cave’s teenage son. It is a life experience that few can relate to, yet the emotional weight of these songs and Cave’s voice tells you all you need to know about how a lose like this will affect someone. The album navigates the subjects of death and grief in a way that only Nick Cave could. Partially deeply metaphoric, partially brutally direct, this is as raw as Cave has ever been in his music and that is why this will always be one of the most hauntingly beautiful but nonetheless painful releases of the decade.
18) Swans – To Be Kind (2014)
At this point, there is absolutely no denying the direction that Swans took in the 2010s was as ambitious as it was inspiring, and To Be Kind is the definitive example of everything the band has done right in this portion of their career. Following up the massive The Seer is ambitious enough as it is, but Michael Gira took that challenge by crafting a record that manages to follow up and improve upon what was set up for it. Each song on here has a specific energy to it, feeling both chaotic and controlled in how they move forward. It is music like this that encourages many music critics to recall everything they learned in their college creative writing classes and use it to describe the feelings they get from this music. Some might call it pretentious, but I would argue this is a testament to how deeply inspiration this kind of music is to people.
17) Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
This is the album that proved that Killer Mike and El-P were both worthy of legend status, plain and simple. The first album was an excellent experiment between these two underground titans, but this is the album that truly proved that these two were meant to be making music together. Every element of this album not only works, but has been turned up to the max. El-P’s production is as wild as it’s ever been, blending weirder futuristic beats with the type of grimy, hard-hitting beats Killer Mike has always excelled on. The chemistry between these two emcees has also never been better than on here. There are no moments where you feel that one rapper is trying to outdo the other, instead they give each other the perfect amount of attention, achieving a perfect amount of time on each track. If Run the Jewels was showing two greats becoming co-workers, Run the Jewels 2 is showing them become brothers.
16) Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (2019)
This is one of the harder albums to discuss on this list. It is the only album from a side project fronted by Silver Jews’ David Berman who tragically took his own life less than a month after its release. It is impossible not to have this in mind while listening to every moment of this album, where Berman digs deep into his soul and writes about his depressive thoughts in a disturbingly vivid way. Even with these morbidly dark lyrics, Berman maintains his wit and clever dark comedy, only adding to the sadness of these songs. The production is lavish and it was obvious that Berman wanted this to sound much more fun than it was. Songs like “Margaritas at the Mall” and “Storyline Fever” are actually infectiously catchy, causing this album to be both easy to listen to yet difficult to sit with as the songs stay with you. There are few releases like this one and it certainly deserves all the recognition it has been getting for its candid look at severe depression.
15) JPEGMAFIA – All My Heroes Are Cornballs (2019)
If we are talking about pure originality, there are very few albums that come close to All My Heroes Are Cornballs. JPEGMAFIA’s production style has always been distinct but on this album his beats are sharper, more diverse and wilder than ever before. It pairs perfectly with Peggy’s aggressive delivery and witty bars focused on everything from the state of the rap industry to internet culture. This is truly one of the tightest rap albums to be released all decade, not wasting a second to throw out a quotable line or a wild sample. It easily sets the bar as being one of the best underground rap albums released in the last century.
14) Frank Ocean – Channel ORANGE (2012)
As much as Nostalgia, Ultra did a great job of introducing Frank Ocean as an artist, this was the album that let us know he would become a staple of the decade. Ocean runs the gambit on song topics, ranging from relationships, poverty, drugs, sexuality and more, all with a unique sense of grace and vulnerability. While songs like “Thinkin Bout You” would become iconic R&B from the year, it is impossible to deny how much songs like “Bad Religion,” “Sweet Life,” and “Forrest Gump” would stick around for me and still have the same emotional impact now as it did when I first heard this several years ago. This was a high school defining record for me and is one I will go back to with fondness for decades to come.
13) Idles – Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018)
As much as I adore Brutalism, I find that Joy as an Act of Resistance sees Idles venturing further into their unique brand of punk. It is here that Idles’ solidifies who they are as a band. Their sound is big, intimidating and intense as lead singer Joe Talbot sings and screams about leftist issues that are often shunned by those who stereotypically listen to this kind of music. This is what makes Idles great and this record one of the best punk releases of the decade. Going from topic to topic, from toxic masculinity to immigration, this album goes all over the place without losing its voice. The kind of messy that perfectly matches the kind of songs Idles have been making. This is the kind of political music that I adore and hope to see more of in the world. Pure populism executed with conviction. And the songs are ridiculously great on top of that. No other album this decade has felt like such a cathartic release of stress and anger about the current state of politics around the world.
12) Sun Kil Moon – Benji (2014)
Despite putting out several hours of music this decade, Mark Kozelek was never going to top what he achieved with Benji. This is a true singer-songwriter project, spanning topics from life and death, parents, mass shootings, mercy killings, and more all in immense detail. Almost too much detail, which has been the fine line Kozelek has always walked for me but here he walks that line perfectly. His borderline spoken-word delivery makes this album feel like more than just music to Kozelek, instead feeling like a series diary entries that he was able to put to music. The amount of pure empathy I was able to have because of this album went deep and I truly felt like the art was bringing me inside the mind of the artist in a way few albums have done for me. Each song is special to me and despite the fact I know Sun Kil Moon will never put out a record that hits me like this one, this is all I needed to say that Kozelek is one of the most open and honest artists working today.
11) Lorde – Melodrama (2017)
Everyone assumed the best was behind Lorde during the years following the release of Pure Heroine. And there was justifiable reason to believe that, considering just how much of a milestone that album was for pop music in the 2010s. That being said, Melodrama ended up surpassing that album in every imaginable way. One of the most honest musical expressions made by a young adult, this is an album that drove right into the emotional core of anyone Lorde’s age and somehow I feel it will have the same impact on me as I get older. This goes beyond relationships, it really showcases the thoughts that most millennials have at this point in their lives. Of course, all this is only complimented further by Jack Antonoff’s production which is vast and still manages to get stuck in your head with each of the colorful tracks on here. I loved this album from my first listen and it’s place in my heart has only grown fonder.
10) Death Grips – The Money Store (2012)
It was not a particularly hard decision to rank this higher than the other Death Grips albums that made this list. Simply put, The Money Store is everything I love about the group turned up to the max. The glitchy, abrasive production is the racing heartbeat of each of the tracks on here. The album grabs you right from the open and holding onto you, forcing you through an intense 41 minute journey that is absolutely unlike anything I have ever heard. Despite some of the most overloaded and overcharged production to be heard on a hip hop album, most songs are able to fit in a catchy hook that makes this album filled with memorable bangers from start to finish. Like many, this was my first experience with Death Grips and while I didn’t love it immediately, years of listening to this has only confirmed to me that this is a modern masterpiece of its genre and deserves its underground classic status.
9) Tyler, the Creator – Flower Boy (2017)
I distinctly remember listening to this album for the first time and being in awe of what Tyler had created. After years of raunchy, offensive and horrorcore music he made a beautifully orchestrated emotional journey with phenomenal songwriting. Songs like “Who Dat Boy” and “I Ain’t Got Time!” bump hard while more melodic songs like “See You Again” and “Boredom” deserved to be bigger. And there are few songs in Tyler’s career that will top the emotional heights of listening to “Garden Shed” and “November” for the first time. This is the moment I felt Tyler truly came into his own as an artist, songwriter and producer all at once. I loved this record when I first listened, over two years of constant replays it is still his crowning achievement and is a classic record from this decade.
8) Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (2016)
While their output slowed down in the 2010s, this album confirmed that the band would be able to release a classic record in three consecutive decades. Yes, A Moon Shaped Pool is a classic at this point, especially for fans. Its unanimous love from Radiohead diehards is not shocking as this is what any of them would want in an album. The production is immaculate, shifting from string orchestras to piano ballads to glitched out electronics with such grace and precision. The music captures the chaotic, yet heartbroken tone this album takes with its sensitive subject matter. Yorke uses this record to dissect his ending marriage as well as thinking of death on a global scale with climate change. It is the band’s darkest record in many ways and while it features many songs that were written and performed decades ago, they all are repurposed and put into the world with such craftsmanship it is insane to think they were not all created to be a collective unit. This record will always hold a special place in my heart and will go down as one of Radiohead’s best albums and rightfully earns the title as the most essential piece of music affiliated with this band since In Rainbows.
7) Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010)
As much as this decade would prove to be massively disappointing for Arcade Fire, they started it off in the best possible way. The Suburbs is a deeply nostalgic album for me, not just because of my personal experiences surrounding it, but the way each of the songs on this record are able to bring me back to being younger. It is truly the most inward Arcade Fire has ever felt. Unlike their other albums, this one spends less time focusing outward on the world as a whole but keeps it smaller, focusing on Will and Win Butler’s experiences growing up in the suburbs outside Houston. Nearly every track here is a standout to me, whether it be catchy indie rock jams like “Ready to Start” and “Month of May” or soaring ballads like “Half Light II (No Celebration)” and “Deep Blue.” And then there is “Sprawl II,” easily one of the best songs of the decade. I know it will be impossible for Arcade Fire to top Funeral, possibly my favorite of all time, but this album certainly got closer than any of their others and that speaks volumes about my love for this.
6) Frank Ocean – Blonde (2016)
This is a list of albums that have each made a connection with me in some kind of deep way, but very few albums have had the lasting effects that Blonde has over the last three years. I will be honest and say that this album came out when I was at an emotionally low place in my life and it truly felt like it was speaking directly to me and I know so many other people have had the same experience with this. This is more than an album about a breakup or depression, it is more of an album of sheer human emotion delivered beautifully by Ocean who cemented his name as an icon here. Despite the dozens of collaborating vocal and production credits, this is undoubtedly Ocean’s album and he maintains control of the entire things. Even the moments he is absent have his presence behind them. From soaring ballads like “Ivy” and “Godspeed” to intimate moments like “Self Control” and “White Ferrari,” this album grips you and never lets go of your emotions from start to finish. This is a definitive summer album for me and one of the most impactful records of all time for me.
5) Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
There are few albums as essential to hip hop culture in the 2010s as good kid, m.A.A.d city. It’s legacy speaks for itself. The album serves as the essential introduction to Kendrick Lamar on many levels. It specifically gives us an introduction to who he is as a person, as the entire album focuses on his adolescence in Compton. It paints a vivid image of Lamar’s surrounding and upbringing and lays out how he was able to survive his time in a difficult environment. We also get insights into what kind of person Kendrick is, with these songs diving into his current values and the life experiences that taught him these values. It is an incredibly unique album in how easily it is able to tell its story while also coming through with some of the most iconic hip hop tracks of the decade. Whether it’s the reckless and relaxed “Backstreet Freestyle,” the aggressive tale of street violence of “m.A.A.d city” or the smoky atmosphere surrounding “Swimming Pools (Drank),” Kendrick creates songs that exist both within and outside of this larger story.
4) Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (2015)
I can vividly remember listening to this album for the first time. I had never heard Father John Misty before but the cover art and positive coverage had me curious. Before the album was even over I knew it was going to be the best album of the year, which ended up not being true but regardless I instantly fell in love with this album. The soaring instrumentation throughout, varied from track to track but nonetheless beautiful and of course Father John Misty’s stellar work as a songwriter. This is one of the most honest and entertaining depictions of a relationship through music not just of this decade but of all time. You get the feeling that the two people on this album are both wildly unstable and toxic yet they still love each other and while the dark sadness of it all is there, it is also tender and sweet at its heart. The humor of it only adds to the vulnerability in Misty’s songwriting and is what truly makes this a masterpiece. Father John Misty is easily the best at what he does and this is him at his most dynamic. Songs like “The Night Josh Tillman Came to Our Apt.” and “Holy Shit” will forever be some of my favorite singer-songwriter pieces of the decade and throughout the nearly five years since this has come out I have continued to grow closer and closer to this record.
3) David Bowie – Blackstar (2016)
The story of Blackstar is one of the bleakest in music history. Following a terminal cancer diagnosis, Bowie created one last album that would go on to be his swan song. It is impossible to remove this from the record as Bowie is directly addressing death in a way that only Bowie could. Between some wild imagery, jazzy production and Bowie’s haunting delivery, this is the kind of music that made this man such an icon and why it feels so fitting that this would be how he chose to end his career. Whether he is tackling the ideas of death directly or reflecting on his own legacy, this album reflects the personal final thoughts of someone in a way that has never been captured in music. At least not like this. My first listen to this album after hearing the news of David Bowie’s passing will remain one of the hardest listening experiences of my life and this album will continue to strike me in a way no other album could.
2) Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010)
It is no exaggeration to say that when 13-year-old Jason listened to this album for the first time it was life changing. I had listened to very few albums from the start to finish and this was unlike anything I had ever heard. Nine years later, I completely understand why this is one of the greatest hip hop albums of all time. Never has an artist needed to prove themselves more than Kanye West in 2010 and he rose to the occasion in every possible way. The lyrics offer a new insight into the mind of Kanye, painting him as a tortured genius which is only exemplified by the opulent production that is easily the best Kanye has ever worked with. The team of features that was assembled for this project is also special, with each guest having a moment that is at worst very memorable and at best legendary. This is an album that laid out the groundwork for much of the music that would come out after it this decade and will go down as Kanye West’ defining album at the peak of his artistic excellence.
1) Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)
I am completely serious when I say that this might be among the greatest albums ever made. It is at least one of my personal favorites. It is almost embarrassing the amount of hours I have sat with this album. Between the countless listens, the essays and articles read, the podcasts listened to, there is little content about this album I have not consumed. Yet, despite having looked at every word under a microscope, I love everything about To Pimp a Butterfly. While good kid, m.A.A.d city is a vivid portrait of Kendrick’s life within Compton, To Pimp a Butterfly takes these themes and looks at them outwardly, dissecting communities that Kendrick grew up in from the perspective of someone who got out. Starting with a young, hungry rapper trying to capitalize on their early success and watch them grow up and look back at their demons over the course of an 80 minute opus. With just a handful of notable features, this is all from the mind of Kendrick Lamar, giving us one of the most vulnerable looks at an artist during their creative peak. The experience listening to this album is unlike any other hip hop album I have ever gotten to sit with and there was no question as to which album would be topping this list.